For the Vancouver Whitecaps, Soccer Bowl 1979 began with howls of execration raining down on them. Only a week before they had committed the sin of knocking the Cosmos out of the playoffs. And on Saturday afternoon the 50,699 fans at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N. J.—all but a few of them Cosmos supporters—showed that they were still choking on the fearful truth that, so sorry, no Franz, no Giorgio, no Bogie would be around when the trophy was presented.
But there it was: Vancouver against the Tampa Bay Rowdies. All right. Tampa you could live with. In four trips to the Meadowlands, the Rowdies hadn't won. In losing at last year's Soccer Bowl 3-1, they had been a punching bag for the Cosmos. But, oh, Vancouver!
And the crowd's loudest howls, its angriest bayings, were saved for the Caps' Phil (Lofty) Parkes, the league's best goalie, who had foiled the Cosmos in the final shootout. As he gained the center of the field during the player introductions, the 6'3" Parkes blew satiric kisses to the crowd. Willie Johnston, the Caps' Scottish winger, tucked his soccer ball under his shirt in a vulgar manner as he ran out. The louder the crowd howled, the less the Whitecaps cared. Quite clearly, they were full of fizz.
They had been like that for days, and it had their coach, Tony Waiters, worried. On Friday morning, at their last workout before the game, the Caps had been bursting with energy, fighting one another for the ball as if they were playing a real game, yelling and laughing as if it were celebration time already. "I have to get them down a bit," Waiters had said then. "All of them. They're too bubbly."
At game time Vancouver was the favorite, though narrowly. The Rowdies have always been a hard-fighting side, especially in the playoffs, and when they were beaten in the Bowl last year, they had played without the injured Rodney Marsh.
This time he would be there and as highly motivated as anyone on the field. For Marsh—stylish, debonair, the winner of nine international "caps" for England, the idol of Tampa—Saturday's game would be his last as far as serious competition was concerned.
Marsh intended to rise to the occasion. "I desperately want to win," he declared, as well he might. On Friday a testimonial game will be played for Marsh in Tampa. He will keep the proceeds, after the deduction of such expenses as hiring an armored car to take the money to the bank. A rough guess is that he'll end up with about $50,000. But his take will be based on the gate, and that would be substantially increased should the guest of honor come home straight from a Soccer Bowl triumph.
The other key figure in the Tampa attack was their Argentinian striker, Oscar Fabbiani, and he was a less than ebullient figure at the final practice. At mid-season he had been riding the crest of a goal-scoring wave—indeed, with 58 points he had beaten out the Cosmos' Giorgio Chinaglia as the high scorer in the regular season. Since season's end, though, Fabbiani's production had fallen off; he had scored only one goal in seven playoff games. On Friday—in Spanish, and unequivocally—he blamed his teammates for starving him of passes. Their egotism was to blame, he suggested, especially in televised games. "You have to feed your scorer," he said. "I tell them, 'Do you think I am doing this for myself? I am making goals for you.' " It wasn't the happiest way for a player to be going into Soccer Bowl.
Fabbiani also said that the Rowdies' best strategy would be to come out with guns blazing, Cosmos-style. But when the game began, it was Vancouver that had all the effervescence.
In five minutes the Caps had forced two corners, and in just over 12 they were ahead. Trevor Whymark beat the Rowdies' Steve Wegerle on the turn and then, with Defender Barry Kitchener helpless, hammered a left-foot shot past Zeljko Bilecki in goal. Whymark's great mop of curly fair hair would be in the midst of the action throughout the afternoon.
A few minutes later he almost settled the whole thing. A Whymark shot slammed against the post and rebounded to Kevin Hector, who had an empty goal gaping in front of him. It was infinitely harder to miss than to score, but the usually deadly Hector managed the feat, hitting the underside of the bar so that the ball rebounded into play.
If the score had gone to 2-0 then, a rout of Tampa Bay would surely have followed. Even at 1-0 a cautious man might have put his eating money on the Caps. If he had, he would quite soon after have suffered a sharp attack of heartburn. About 10 minutes later, even with the Caps looking cool and self-possessed on defense, the Rowdies scored.
There was a shadow of doubt over the goal. It looked as if Tampa Bay's Peter Anderson had fouled the Caps' Carl Valentine while getting the ball through for Jan Van Der Veen to score. The call was not made, though, and now with more than 20 minutes left in the first half, Tampa was in the game again.
Fabbiani, mainly unsupported—as he gloomily had expected to be—had been playing some pretty though unproductive solo soccer. Now Marsh, who had been subdued for most of the half, clipped in a center from the right wing. Running in on it, Fabbiani sweetly headed the ball just inside the near post. But no goal. Fabbiani was ruled offside.
Then it was Whymark heading one into the net, only to see his goal disallowed, too. Hector or Whymark himself had impeded the Rowdies' goalie. This was meaty playoff soccer—bustling, end-to-end, exciting. The only losers were the fans, who sat there disconsolately chanting "Cosmos! Cosmos!" as if their team might somehow materialize.
At halftime though, if you weren't still looking for the resurrection of Franz Beckenbauer, it was possible to make an assessment. Territorially, Tampa Bay had had the greater share of the play, but near the goal the Caps had looked more dangerous. Valentine, at 21, the kind of young recruit NASL teams should be looking for—rather than the big-name, passè players they are forever signing—was continually showing thrust and speed. There was Johnston's masterly jinking, Whymark's timely aggressiveness, prompting from that sly fox Alan Ball. Tampa Bay had nothing to match this. Wegerle, so often a threat for the Rowdies on the flank, was making no progress against Bob Lenarduzzi; Fabbiani just looked lonely; and for lengthy periods Marsh seemed to drop out of the game.
Just short of 15 minutes after the restart the Caps went ahead 2-1, characteristically off a movement initiated by Ball, who set up as if to cross, deceiving the Tampa Bay defense, but then pushed a short ground pass to Whymark. Whymark's right-foot shot would probably have beaten the goalie anyway, but Bilecki stood no chance at all when the hapless Kitchener stuck out his left leg and deflected the ball into the net. It turned out to be the final goal of the game.
As the second half ebbed away, the Rowdies, as they had to, came forward in strength. In the last 20 minutes there were times when Bilecki in the Tampa Bay goal was the only man in his half of the field. The redoubtable back four of the Caps stayed unshaken almost until the end: Lenarduzzi, first with Buzz Parsons, then with Bob Bolitho, all Canadians; John Craven and Roger Kenyon, the English League veterans.
The Tampa Bay substitutions began with about 19 minutes to go. Peter Baralic, the Yugoslav midfielder, replaced the ineffective Wegerle. Earlier, Fabbiani had said that Baralic was the one man he could rely on to feed him. But Baralic was plainly unfit—he had been injured against Detroit at the start of the playoffs—and his presence was of little help.
Marsh, meanwhile, had been lurking out on left wing, trying to shake off his cover. Free for an instant, he slammed in a shot that Parkes could only push away and allow Ray Lewington to clear. And then, just as suddenly, Marsh was taken off the field by Coach Gordon Jago. Understandably, Marsh was bitter, but as Jago later said, "We tried everything. So our last gamble was on speed."
It almost came off. Jago substituted Left Winger John Grnja, another Yugoslavian. In one sequence that followed, Grnja centered the ball, producing a header from Fabbiani that Parkes stopped magnificently in midleap.
It was virtually Tampa's last shot, though as Vancouver's Waiters would say, "In the last seven minutes we had no control of the game at all." But the Caps survived. It had been a hard, brave game, and mercifully one that had not been decided by sudden-death overtime or a shootout. The Whitecaps were unreservedly the new NASL champions.
But arguably the bravest moment of all came after the final whistle when NASL Commissioner Phil Woosnam strode out to present the trophy. The crowd's howling rose in a crescendo. This was the man who had suspended their Carlos Alberto, their Eskadarian and cost them, they believed, the Bowl. Woosnam confronted them and made his speech unflinchingly, like one of those old Victorian heroes facing down a native horde. That was championship stuff, too.