Meanwhile, a newly imported Croatian by the name of Ivan Grnja (pronounced Grunya) gave the young Minnesota midfielders lessons in continental ball handling; his long, blond hair flapping on his square shoulders, he constantly avoided their tackles, moving the ball in the Toronto style, slowly, inch by inch toward the Minnesota goal in deliberate stages.
Grnja made a powerful shot on goal with seven minutes left in the game, and the rebound was booted in by Ferreira for the third and final goal. The Seattle crowd of 25,765, heavily favoring the Kicks, sat in silent awe at the Metros- Croatia performance. It was an exercise in a style of play rarely seen in the NASL's efficient futurism, a lovely performance in history, a continental show that could be called "Croatian Graffiti," a blast from the past.
In the Toronto locker room after the game, the Minnesota captain, Midfielder Alan Merrick, proved himself a gracious loser of the First Division level. He lugged a case of champagne—one the team had brought out to the Coast for themselves—into the winners' room and presented the first bottle to Eusebio with a handshake and a "well done," which may have said more about the rude good health of the NASL than modern marketing theories.
Said Metros- Croatia Goalie Zelijko Bilecki, who had not allowed a goal in the final two playoff games, "I was a hundred percent sure we'd win. I don't know how we forgot champagne."
As Eusebio sipped from a paper cup, his robust Croatian teammates bathed in the bubbly and, led by Grnja, sang lusty provincial mazurkas, laughing and shouting.
One league official sighed as he gazed at the NASL championship trophy in the Toronto room. "It's a shame," he said. "They'll go back to Toronto next season and still only get 6,000 people out, even though they're now the league champs. They're too ethnic."
Indeed, the future of Toronto Metros- Croatia is not unclouded. The team is once again in financial trouble. Carling-O'Keefe, the giant Canadian brewery consortium, has reportedly offered $900,000 for the franchise. That would force the proud Croatians back into the semi-pro league and clear the decks for Woosnam's dream of the 21st Century. In a league that in 10 seasons has never had a team repeat as champions, and which now in a respectable number of cities trembles on the verge of becoming a major spectator sport in North America, the dream could come true. But for this year it was satisfying to see these aging tough guys have their moment.
And if you're in favor of endangered species, it's intriguing to dream about the possibility of the 19 other owners in the league arriving home some evening to find dead bats on their doorsteps.