Eddie Firmani is a South African with an Italian father and an English mother, and he is the coach of the Tampa Bay Rowdies. He is best known in Italy, where he spent some of his most fructuous playing years. When he arrived there, the Italian fans dubbed him Il Tacchino (the Turkey) because of the funny way he flapped his elbows when he ran. Then when they saw the even funnier way he behaved after he scored—as if he were almost bored with it all—they changed his name to Il Tacchino Freddo (the Cold Turkey). And when Firmani started scoring goals in bunches they had to change his name again, to Il Tacchino d'Oro (the Golden Turkey). Well, last Sunday the Golden Turkey was only d'oro. In leading his Rowdies to the North American Soccer League championship over the Portland Timbers, 2-0, and coaching them to shutouts in the previous two playoff games, Firmani proved he is no tacchino.
This is the third consecutive year that an expansion team has been the NASL champion, which was a foregone conclusion, because Portland is also an expansion team. But while Firmani had six months to form the Rowdies, the entire Portland team had been put together in a matter of days. Barely a month before the season began in early May, there were no Timbers at all. Coach Vic Crowe, a lean, square-jawed, redheaded Englishman, had not been hired until March, and he spent the month of April frantically signing players. Crowe brought the newly formed Timbers to the U.S. a mere four days before their opening game, and they were shut out before 8,131 fans. After the game Crowe found time to take care of the formalities—such as introducing his players to each other—and then they got their act together. They won the rest of their 12 home games, and for the last one, the semifinal against St. Louis, there were 33,503 spectators, many of whom waited for hours in the rain to buy tickets.
Sunday's championship was played before a crowd of 17,009 in San Jose's tree-ringed Spartan Stadium, and no one knew whether to call it the Soccer Superbowl, the Super Soccerbowl or simply the Soccer Bowl. Whatever, the teams seemed perfectly matched for a championship. They had identical season records of 18-6, including two playoff wins apiece; Portland had 138 points, Tampa Bay 135. Tampa Bay was second in the league in offense, Portland third; they were tied for first in defense. Against common opponents their records were nearly the same. There was only one statistic that would give a clue to the outcome: Tampa had outscored its opponents by 29-10 in the second period.
The biggest difference between the teams was in style. Portland uses a deliberate, ball-control offense, while Tampa Bay plays a more wide-open game, largely to please American spectators, which it certainly does.
Portland had played on Spartan Stadium's small field twice before, which led Crowe to consider the Timbers the home team; but apparently he forgot to tell the local fans. He also forgot to tell Krazy George, who is mild-mannered enough until he gets near a bass drum and a per-fervid soccer crowd, whereupon he is transformed into a rabble-rouser worthy of his name. Portland's first regular-season game with the San Jose Earthquakes had been a wild affair in which there were three ejections and five cautions, and in that game the Portland fans had made an imprudent move: they got on the wrong side of Krazy George. It was the cup of beer over his head that did it. Krazy George doesn't forget. On Sunday he democratically divided his time between the two teams, but he rooted for the Rowdies with more energy.
The first period was scoreless. Partway into the second, Firmani decided that Left Fullback Malcolm Linton was slowing down, so he substituted Arsene Auguste, a 6'3", 185-pound, gap-toothed Haitian who had been discovered playing for a semipro team in New Jersey, and had been a Rowdie only since July. So there he was hanging around in front of Portland's goal when Tampa Bay's top scorer, Derek Smethurst, suddenly flipped the ball to him. Auguste usually likes to shoot long, but he shook off his surprise and slammed the ball toward the goal with a powerful left-footed kick from 30 yards out. The ball nicked the crossbar and went in.
Then with just 2:22 left, Tampa Bay put the game away on a 35-yard unassisted drive by Clyde Best, a Bermudian on loan from West Ham United, an English First-Division team. When he got within 10 yards he kicked the ball on the dead run past both Portland defender Graham Day and Goalkeeper Graham Brown, who were left sprawling. Portland had threatened four times in the last 12 minutes, but couldn't score, partly because of some fine goalkeeping by Paul Hammond.
Hammond plays for a Third-Division team in England and is not even a regular. "I think he is one of the best goalkeepers in England," Firmani said, "but he doesn't get credit for it."
Still, the Most Valuable Player award went to defender Stewart Jump of Tampa, who had the rugged assignment of hounding Portland's top scoring threat, Peter Withe. Only once did Withe get open for a reasonable scoring chance, and then Hammond was able to make the save.
The game's big mystery was the nonappearance of Tampa Bay defender Farrukh Quraishi, the only player from either squad to make the All-NASL first team, which was chosen by the players. Quraishi was born in Iran and raised on soccer in England, but he attended Oneonta (N.Y.) State. He nearly lost a leg in a bicycle accident, but still became a three-time All-America. He had played in all but one of the regular-season games, but had been benched by Firmani for the playoffs, an unpopular move in Tampa.