It was a huge fiesta in the rain. The lucky ones sat in the stands and the rest on open benches, drying out a little when the sun fitfully appeared, and roaring their hearts out as if this were Munich on World Cup day, not a soaking Sabbath in Portland. All 35,548 of them were crammed into creaky old Civic Stadium that was built in the '20s with greyhound racing in mind but which in the future may be recognized as the place where soccer in North America had its coming-of-age party. The NASL final between the Seattle Sounders and the Cosmos—officials would prefer you to call it Soccer Bowl '77—was the culmination of a season that has changed the face of the sport in the U.S. And the game itself was a special kind of soccer, gaining in drama and passion because everything hung on the day. You could call it Cup Fever.
The pairing in Portland was classic underdog versus superdog. To the right, the Cosmos, a team on which millions of dollars had been lavished by Warner Communications. On the left, the Sounders, described by Seattle's own Post-Intelligencer last week as "a gang of [coach] Jimmy Gabriel's old cronies from the homeland." That was self-deprecatory flummery, of course. The paper made it plain that it really loved the bunch of hard-nosed pros from the lower divisions of the English League.
If not among the players, then in the Cosmos' camp there were certain airs and graces detectable before the game. "Wouldn't it be fine," mused a team official on the eve of the match, "if the Cosmos could represent America in the World Cup?" It was explained to him that only citizens could represent a nation in that competition, and clearly many of the Cosmos' leading lights were not U.S. citizens—Pel�, Franz Beckenbauer and Giorgio Chinaglia, to name three.
"So why doesn't Warners buy Nicaragua or maybe Scotland?" was the rejoinder.
"Quiet," a third voice said, "or it'll be up at the next board meeting."
It was just as well he couldn't be heard at Civic Stadium, which was packed mainly by Sounders fans. THE YEAR SEATTLE SLEW THE COSMOS read one of the more literate hand-painted signs. Another, smaller one indicated yet a further reason for the day to be accorded a place in soccer history. FELICIDADES PEL�, it said.
And the elegaic sky, low and weeping, was indeed a fitting backcloth against which to see the last of the great player. There will be other farewell appearances for him but not another game that matters in the record books. The neat, compact, wrinkle-browed magician has had a greater influence on the game than any other player of his time. Three years ago Pel� of Brazil became Pel� of the Cosmos, of New York, of the U.S.A. It would be dishonest to pretend this was still the Pel� of Brazil's three World Cup triumphs. The great skills were there, but necessarily doled out in smaller quantities over 90 minutes of play. It didn't matter much. In three years, not to labor the point, Pel� has made soccer big league in North America.
And so, in Portland on Sunday, the crowd was a little torn between seeing its side win and seeing Pel� go out with a bang, rather than something less. An exception was Jimmy Gabriel. "Pel�'s won enough medals," he declared dourly, if understandably.
And the Sounders started as if they were going to make sure of that. In the first minute Dave Gillet bundled Chinaglia head over heels and Micky Cave blazed the ball over the Cosmos' crossbar in the first of what turned out to be an endless series of near things for Cosmos Goalie Shep Messing. Jimmy Robertson, Seattle's Glaswegian right wing, had Carlos Alberto, the Cosmos' most recent Brazilian acquisition, clearing wildly upfield in contrast to what would normally be his thoughtful pass to a midfielder. Only Steve Hunt for the Cosmos looked aggressive. And for long periods in the first half he was left alone up front.
The Sounders kept charging, committing almost everything to the attack, with the Cosmos' midfield apparently unable to exploit the huge gaps that this left. And they came close indeed to taking an early lead that might have unmanned the Cosmos, who appeared to have little stomach for offense. Jocky Scott hit a ball that struck the Cosmos' crossbar and rebounded to Cave. Cave slammed it into the net and was running back in joy before he realized the official had whistled for offside. It was a hairline decision, and it may have decided the game. For, shortly after that, almost 20 minutes into the half, Hunt's one-man army was finally rewarded for its repeated, unaided forays.