It's a one-man show that has been staged many times in the NASL the past seven years. It's called Chinaglia Strikes Again! and the most recent revival came Saturday night in Soccer Bowl at San Diego. The championship game between the Cosmos and the Seattle Sounders was half an hour old, and the Cosmos' striker, Giorgio Chinaglia, might as well have been in New Jersey pondering his real-estate interests for all the impact he was having on the game. The rest of the Cosmos hadn't been making their presence felt either, as the Seattle attack hurled raid after raid at a defense that looked as if it might crumble any second.
But then Cosmos Sweeper Carlos Alberto picked up the ball in the middle and got it to Midfielder Julio Cesar Romero, who, in the way the Cosmos run things today, had learned less than four hours earlier that he would start. Romero slid the ball to the suddenly manifest Chinaglia, who bulled his way by hapless Defender Benny Dargle and hammered it high and to the right of Paul Hammond in Seattle's goal. It was 1-0 Cosmos, and that was the way it stayed.
This was the eighth Soccer Bowl and the first to rematch previous opponents. Five years ago the Cosmos beat the Sounders 2-1 for the title. And who scored the winner then? Chinaglia, of course. But that wasn't the end of the similarities between Soccer Bowl '82 and the game five years ago.
As in 1977, a great Brazilian player would bow out of the sport after this year's game. Then it was Pelé. Now it was Carlos Alberto, that stalwart defender and captain of his nation's World Cup-winning team in 1970, whose quizzical, intelligent face, lined like a road map, shows all of his 38 years. He would be seen in serious action for the last time.
And, as in '77, U.S. pro soccer's annual showpiece was played in a somewhat out-of-the-way setting. Then it was the down-at-heels Civic Stadium in Portland, Ore. On this occasion it was San Diego's less-than-pristine Jack Murphy Stadium. Also harking back to the '77 Soccer Bowl was the presence last week of Steve Hunt, the other hero of the earlier game. In Portland, Hunt had been presented with a gift-wrapped goal when Seattle Goalie Tony Chursky, in a tragicomical lapse of concentration—which, he claims, he has recalled every day since—gently rolled the ball onto Hunt's toe. Hunt has changed in the five ensuing years. He plays in midfield now, and the long blond hair that used to stream behind him as he streaked down the field is thinner and much shorter.
The nostalgia supply ran out right there, because much more has changed in the NASL since 1977 than the length and quantity of Hunt's hair. The creaky stadium in Portland was jammed to its 35,548 capacity; in San Diego only 22,634 fans rattled about in Jack Murphy, which holds 50,000. In 1977, the league's golden era was just over the horizon. The days when sellout crowds of 76,800 filled Giants Stadium for Cosmos games did come, but in 1982 that sort of turnout is a thing of the past, like the limitless optimism of NASL Commissioner Phil Woosnam.
Whatever happened to that rosy glow? Pretty much everything. Woosnam was in effect demoted in June when Howard Samuels was brought in to fill the new job of league president. In San Diego, Samuels, a 62-year-old New York businessman and politician and soccer player as an MIT undergraduate, said starkly, "Professional soccer in this country is a total failure." He was brought in by the league to direct a desperate salvage operation. He has allotted two years to accomplish it. Samuels estimates NASL franchise owners may have lost as much as $800 million over the past 15 years. This season alone, he says, with attendance down yet again—by 18%—and the franchises at Edmonton, Jacksonville and Portland in imminent danger of folding, the average deficit for an NASL club has been considerably more than $1 million.
And so, at the President's Reception earlier in the week—until Samuels' arrival it had been called the Commissioner's Reception—the talk was of gloomy paradoxes and odd panaceas. The chief paradox was the fact that the league's parlous state coincides with an upsurge in U.S. youth soccer that, in some areas, has more youngsters playing that game than are turning out for football or baseball. The most-discussed panacea was Samuels' concept of making the U.S. national squad a franchise in the league, thus pitting a team of the best American players against the foreign-dominated NASL sides and allowing the league to cash in on patriotic fervor.
As it happened, the clouds over San Diego last week weren't merely metaphorical. Hurricane Norman stirred up rainstorms that threatened to turn Jack Murphy into wetlands worthy of the Sierra Club's attention. In the omens department, though, the league could take comfort from the sun that shone through on Saturday. That at least guaranteed a crowd that wouldn't be as humiliatingly small as pregame ticket sales had indicated it might be.
And for once, also, Soccer Bowl didn't look like a mismatch. Though Seattle had gotten off to an unhappy start in the regular season—it had been 0-4, then 4-9—the Sounders had ended up winning the Western Division, having scored just one fewer goal, 72 to 73, on the year than the Cosmos. In the teams' two regular-season meetings, each game resulted in a 3-2 score, with the home side on top.
The way Soccer Bowl started, it looked as if Seattle would play the home-team role this time. The Sounders had almost all of the crowd support, probably because San Diego and Seattle at least have the Pacific Coast in common, and all the early play was theirs, BRING PRO SOCCER BACK TO ORANGE COUNTY read a banner produced by the Surf Wipeout Club, clearly a last-ditch guerrilla unit battling for the revival of the now-defunct California Surf. The Wipeouts cheered almost hysterically as Peter Ward, the Sounders' English striker, came close to heading in a pass by Gary Mills. Next it was Jeff Stock, a home-grown product from Tacoma, Wash., chipping a left-foot shot that Hubert Birkenmeier, the Cosmos' goalie, misjudged. The ball was just wide. Then the Sounders forced three successive corners. High balls were obviously troubling Birkenmeier, who looked shaky.
When Steve Daley, the Sounders' most dangerous attacker, just missed with a 25-yard screamer and, moments later, Birkenmeier sank to his knees to save a shot from Mark Peterson, it looked as if the game would surely go Seattle's way. It was shortly thereafter, at 30:17, that Chinaglia went into his act.
"What people don't understand," Alan Hinton, Seattle's coach, said later, "is Chinaglia's sheer strength. Look at the way he's built, the shoulders. He can bull a defender right off the ball, entirely legitimately, and get his shot in."
And Dargle added ruefully, "He turned away to shield the ball from me"—those big shoulders were the barrier—"and instead of holding my ground, I tried to go for the ball." That gave Chinaglia the opening to twist and get a fast shot in. "It was my sort of ball," he said. "I snap it up." He sure did, nullifying all of Seattle's brilliant first-half play. The goal was the Cosmos' first really threatening movement; for the half Seattle out-shot them 10-5.
In the second half, Daley's powerful running might have put Seattle on equal terms. He broke through on the right and found Ward, unmarked, in front of goal. His pass to Ward was too far in front. Offside. And that was virtually that. By the end, even Sounder toughies like Alan Hudson were permitting themselves to be hustled off the ball.
Hunt summed it all up. "If Seattle was going to win," he said, "it was going to be in the first half hour. That's the way they always play.
"For us," he went on with a fine disregard for mixed metaphor, "it was a question of hanging in and climbing the mountain. You can write Giorgio off, but he won the championship for us."
Nevertheless, the way the Cosmos hung on to their slender lead presented no cause for rejoicing by Samuels and franchise owners hoping for the league's resuscitation. It was dour, possession soccer. "They came to win, not to entertain," said Hinton after the game.
The most gripping moment of the day, in fact, came in the Cosmos locker room at game's end, as Roberto Caba√±as and the rest of the team's Latin players shimmied to a samba beat, keeping time by crashing Gatorade container lids together, and sang "Carlos Alberto" to the tune of Guantanamera. Wearily, running with sweat, Alberto smiled, which was more than the NASL can do these days.