The act was
personal and vaguely sensual, as compulsive and unsophisticated as the man
himself. Sitting alone in his cubicle in the visitors' dressing room in
Washington, D.C.'s RFK Stadium, Paraguayan-born Forward Roberto Caba�as of the
New York Cosmos picked up his right soccer shoe, slowly rubbed the leather
between his thumb and forefinger, then raised the toe of the shoe to his mouth
and kissed it.
"Every time I
do this I get a goal," he said. Sure enough, that night he scored the
second goal of a 2-1 Cosmos win over Team America. "I have much confidence
in this. Much faith. Sometimes I kiss my shoes and I don't score a goal. But
the majority of times it's certain."
If Caba�as is
superstitious, he's also accurate—in his prophesies as well as his kicking.
When the NASL season ended last weekend, the 22-year-old Caba�as had averaged
nearly a goal per game en route to his first league scoring title. In 28 games
he had scored 25 goals and 16 assists for 66 points (the NASL awards two points
for a goal, one for an assist) to become one of only eight players ever to get
more than 60 points in an NASL season.
"But the real
significance of Caba�as' emergence this season," says Cosmos Coach Julio
Mazzei, "is that for the first time the American people may get to watch an
international star blooming before them instead of seeing merely another great
player who made his reputation abroad before coming here."
Skimming the cream
of world soccer aristocracy has been the rule for the Cosmos, and upon that
rule the team has built a formidable reputation. It has won four of its five
NASL championships largely by turning itself into a Versailles of international
soccer princes: Pel� of Brazil arrived in 1975, Giorgio Chinaglia of Italy in
1976, Franz Beckenbauer of West Germany in 1977, Vladislav Bogicevic of
Yugoslavia in 1978 and Johann Neeskens and Wim Rijsbergen of Holland in
Though Pel� had
retired, the rest of the above-named glitterati were still with the Cosmos in
May 1980 when the team gave a tryout to Caba�as, then a gangly 19-year-old who
had first come to the attention of the soccer world while playing for
Paraguay's National Youth Team. The Cosmos had already signed another of that
club's players, Midfielder Julio Cesar Romero, and were giving Caba�as a trial
largely on the recommendation of Head Scout Miguel de Lima. "His goals
didn't impress me as much as his quickness," says de Lima. "He was good
in the air and he could use both feet."
After a brief
tryout in New York, the Cosmos offered Caba�as a contract, though not for a
minute did they think of him as a new Pel�. "Other teams were interested in
me," says Caba�as. "But I decided on the Cosmos because I know only
great players come here. I was not yet a great player. But I wanted to be one
someday. I also wanted to play with Beckenbauer." If only Beckenbauer, or
anybody else, had wanted to play with Caba�as. Many of the Cosmos players
resented the reported $800,000 transfer fee paid to his former team for
Caba�as' contract. "They could have gotten three experienced players for
what they paid for Caba�as," said Beckenbauer at the time.
"Morale," said Chinaglia, "has gone to the dogs." "Bluntly,
we resented him," says Ricky Davis.
Behind his back
some of his new teammates referred to Caba�as cruelly as Monkey, as though he
had come from the South American jungles. He actually grew up in Pilar, a city
of 10,200, 115 miles south of his homeland's capital, Asunci�n. On the field
Caba�as often drew his teammates' ire for holding the ball too long, shooting
when he should have passed and dribbling only to show off his considerable ball
skills. "I think Roberto tried to do too much because he felt he had to
prove to us that he was worth all the money the team paid for him," says
Beckenbauer. "At first it seemed he didn't want to learn from us."
By midsummer of
his rookie year Caba�as had worked his way into the starting lineup. And on
Aug. 9 he scored the goal that beat Seattle 1-0 and led to the Cosmos' third
consecutive NASL regular-season championship. In the playoffs he assisted on
five goals as the Cosmos rolled to another title. By then the onetime Monkey
had a new nickname. Cheetah, which his teammates called him to his face.
"When Roberto gets the ball in the penalty area, it becomes a death
zone," says Mazzei.
"All I ever
wanted to do is play f�tbol," says Caba�as. In school I would draw f�tbol
plays on my papers, and the teacher would throw me out of class. My parents
would get mad. but I tell them, 'I'll be someday big in f�tbol and earn a lot
of money and help my family.' "