SI Vault
Clive Gammon
September 29, 1980
The Cosmos soared in Washington's steamy Soccer Bowl as Fort Lauderdale fell, 3-0
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September 29, 1980

The Joint Was Jumping

The Cosmos soared in Washington's steamy Soccer Bowl as Fort Lauderdale fell, 3-0

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In the dugout, when asked somewhat naively if he were the world's greatest center forward, Chinaglia replied with a classic phrop. A phrop, in case you are unfamiliar with the term—as well you might be, because it was only recently coined by The Times of London—is something you say, for politeness' sake, when you mean the opposite. As in "Let's have lunch real soon." Chinaglia's phrop involved the Strikers' star. "Gerd Mueller is also a great center forward," he said politely. Then he spoiled it by adding "of his time."

"At the moment," said Francois Van der Elst, whom the Cosmos acquired from the Belgian national team at mid-season, "Chinaglia is playing the best soccer of his life." And those who have watched him for years, in Wales, then in Italy, then in this country, can only agree. Chinaglia, at 33, is more driven than he ever has been. Last winter, for instance, mindful of criticism that he was a poor header of the ball, he spent many hours practicing that skill, one result of which was the glorious, flat-out diving header that gave him the sixth goal of the record seven he got in a playoff game against Tulsa.

For Fort Lauderdale, Chinaglia was clearly the main threat, though hard men like defenders Fogarty and Auguste were not about to faint at the sight of him. "He's 60% of their offense," said Fogarty, an English League veteran with a mean mustache, "but when I heard of those seven goals in one game, I thought, he'd never do that against me. How would I go home and sleep? How would I pick up my paycheck?" Auguste, a six-year NASL veteran from Haiti, actually wanted Chinaglia. "I would love to mark him," he said. "If I am there, he gets maybe 10% of the ball he wants."

Also calculating percentages before Soccer Bowl began was the Strikers' captain, Ray Hudson, small, nippy, a fine attacking wing half. "The Cosmos are talent-laden, I know," he said. "But they are 40% better on AstroTurf than grass. Grass is the great leveler. Get them on grass and they start looking human."

The fact that RFK has a natural surface was, the Strikers hoped, at least one factor in their favor. "Thank God we're back on AstroTurf" was what a couple of Cosmos players had been heard to say after they had come home from Los Angeles in the National Conference finals. And one of those, though he denied it steadfastly afterward, was Fullback Jeff Durgan, the league's Rookie of the Year and a U.S. native, the greater part of whose professional career has been spent on artificial surfaces.

AstroTurf, in fact, is beautifully suited to the Cosmos' speciality, the slow build-up from midfield ending in a fast thrust. AstroTurf plays truly, if boringly. The ball can't hit a divot and shoot off at an angle. Above all, it's difficult to tackle on it. "You can't go in hard," explained Terry Garbett, perhaps the best defensive midfielder who ever played for the Cosmos and now their assistant coach. "On grass you'll slide a couple of feet, but on AstroTurf you just stick, so you delay and delay. It makes for a slow game, which suits the Cosmos."

Still this was so much clutching at blades of grass by the Strikers. On any surface what Fort Lauderdale had to do was contain the Cosmos and then counterattack as successfully as it had done in its 2-0 defeat of San Diego the previous week. An early goal, a quick, lucky one, could be the kind of poisoned apple that Holland received in the World Cup Final of 1974, when they went up 1-0 against West Germany within two minutes of the start, only to be outplayed the balance of the game and lose 2-1.

Maybe also, all the trials and traumas of the Strikers' 1980 season—culminating, somewhat amazingly, in their Soccer Bowl appearance—might stiffen them into doing just this, to take all the Cosmos could throw at them, then fight their way to glory in the last quarter.

If the pangs of the season weren't enough to psych the Strikers up for the game, maybe the small annoyances would be. Like being stuck, they claimed, in a hotel inferior to the one the league had put the Cosmos in. There were other things. "We arrive for our first practice," said Fort Lauderdale Assistant Trainer Eddie Rodgers indignantly, "and we find the Cosmos have taken over the Washington Diplomats' locker room, which is beautiful. Two whirlpools, all the equipment. We get the visitors' locker room. All it has are lockers." His voice rose a little. "I requested two 10-gallon coolers of orange Gatorade," he said tragically, "and what do I get? A couple of four-gallon tubs of lemon-and-lime!" Nothing to start a war over but, it seemed at the time, a little something to fan the flames.

And that, as it turned out, would have been entirely redundant. A few more degrees of heat at game time and RFK Stadium might have ignited spontaneously. And the spark, no doubt, would have come from the 5,000 or so New York, sorry, New Yorsey fans who had traveled to Washington for the game and outshouted the 45,000 other spectators who were inclined, clearly, to root for the Strikers.

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