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But in the first round of the playoffs, the Cosmos lost to low-budgeted Tulsa in Oklahoma and then, somewhat humiliatingly, had to beat the Roughnecks twice at home to advance. The defeat at Vancouver left the Cosmos once again needing to win both a regular game and a mini-game at home.
Being beaten by the Caps seemed more than the Cosmos management could take, especially because it involved the loss of two important defenders. The hysteria evidenced in Mazzei's invasion of the pitch was soon echoed by de la Sierra, who implied that the penalties assessed against Eskandarian and Alberto were part of an attempt by Woosnam to cause the Cosmos to lose. And by Saturday morning, full-scale litigation was threatened against the commissioner ("Cosmos File Suite" read the handout).
Comic as the misspelling might be, behind all the bluster was the implication that the Cosmos club was bigger than the league, that only the Cosmos gave the league "credibility." And that, by God, the league had better remember it. At a subsequent press conference, Ross said that he had no comment when asked if he would like to see Woosnam removed from office. Only Ahmet Ertegun, president of the club and one of the few senior members of the Cosmos hierarchy with a solid knowledge of the sport, had the sense and decency to say, in effect, "Let's forget this now and get on with the game."
But Saturday's game looked nowhere near as easy for the Cosmos as their second encounter with Tulsa had been. The Roughnecks had made the error of falling back to defend in their own half almost as soon as the game began, gambling they could hold the Cosmos scoreless and win in a shoot-out. The gamble backfired.
Vancouver was a different sort of a team. "It is no use to sit back and try to soak up pressure from very good players," Waiters said on Friday. "The odds are then that skill will tell." That isn't a particularly original theory of how to deal with the Cosmos. Most coaches give it lip service, then, like Tulsa, go back and defend.
But the Caps' outstanding defensive record—they gave up only 34 goals during the regular season, 12 fewer than any other club—wasn't based on packing their penalty area. Waiters explained it: "We don't mark man-for-man. How are you going to end up? Having them run out in pairs? Hand in hand? We mark on a zonal basis, from front to back. When we lose possession we have 11 defenders.
"If you allow time for them in the middle," Waiters went on, "you get great passing players like Beckenbauer and Bogicevic fading balls in behind defenders for strikers to run onto. On artificial turf they can actually hit balls with backspin, so that they slow up right into the path of players like Chinaglia."
What he was talking about was a plan not dissimilar to the so-called "total" soccer used by the superb Dutch sides of the mid '70s. But to carry that out you need players of the highest talent. The Caps are a solid, workmanlike team, but it was asking a lot of them to perform in the manner of the Clockwork Orange, as the Dutch were called.
But they did have a solid organizer in the middle: Alan Ball, small, wiry, now 34, a member of England's World Cup winning team of 1966 and meeting up, for the nth time, with Franz Beckenbauer, the Cosmos' nonpareil defender. They had played against one another as virtual kids on the English and West German sides in that famous final at Wembley 13 years ago.
Beckenbauer is almost the only player on the Cosmos whom Ball respects. He was plainly shocked by the Alberto spitting incident. And others. "All this fighting with workmen," he sniffs, referring to the notorious clash at Giants' Stadium between Chinaglia and a maintenance crew last July. "They disappoint me as a club. When their reign ends they'll lose all the respect they've gained." Ball is of the opinion that great clubs tend to dominate for four or five years—Real Madrid in the late '50s, Bayern Munich in the early '70s, Liverpool nowadays. The Cosmos cannot be compared to any of these teams, of course, but in the context of the NASL, Ball considers that they should behave themselves, live up to their reputation.