When the first goal—the one that mattered—was scored after 48 cruel, sweltering minutes of 1980's Soccer Bowl, it came from the left foot of the Cosmos' Julio Cesar Romero, but it was Giorgio Chinaglia who made it possible. Giorgio escaped from the Strikers' Ken Fogarty for once so that Defender Arsene Auguste, coming across to help out, had no choice but to sweep Chinaglia's legs from under him. What else can you do when the league's premier scorer is unguarded a foot outside the penalty box?
Vladislav Bogicevic tapped the resulting free kick to Chinaglia, who slammed it against a wall of Striker defenders. The rocket shot rebounded back to Little Cesar, who hit it home. 1-0. "It was the first goal that mattered," Chinaglia said later, and he was entirely right. It was the breaking of the dam.
Until then, at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. on Sunday, it seemed as if the real winner would be the wicked heat. At the half it had hit 99° and the relative humidity was a sweltering 75%. Only the NASL and, presumably, mad dogs, would think of playing soccer in this kind of noonday sun. Even in Brazil they switch to night games when the thermometer goes crazy. Which, possibly, is why Francisco Marinho, Fort Lauderdale's often magical, always temperamental Brazilian midfielder, elected to stay out of the game rather than, as he said, sit it out on the subs' bench. And why another non-starter, though not by his own choice, was the Cosmos' redoubtable Carlos Alberto, also of Brazil.
No one, though, had expected the Strikers to hold out against the Cosmos until 2:55 had gone by in the second half. The playoffs had been a piece of cake—a doddle, as soccer players call an easy game—for the Cosmos. Except for one hiccup, when they lost a home game to Dallas and had to win a 30-minute minigame to clinch the series, the Cosmos had enjoyed a royal progress to Soccer Bowl, King Giorgio and his 16 playoff goals leading the parade.
In contrast, the Strikers had made their way to the final with all the precision, style and speed of the town boozer footing it home through a snowstorm. Three times in the playoff rounds they had won tough road games, three times they had lost the return match at their own Lock-hart Stadium. They scrabbled by California on the 11th goal of a tie-breaking shootout and needed minigames to beat Edmonton and then San Diego.
Right through the regular season, in fact, the Strikers, who once had the most stable image in the league, with reputedly the happiest, most loyal fans, seemed on the verge of disintegrating. At least twice Fort Lauderdale's new coach, Cor van der Hart, needed police protection to get out of Lockhart unscathed, while the general manager, former hockey player Bob Lemieux, happily referred to the whole equipage as the Gas House Gang.
Van der Hart, 53, a florid, heavily built Dutchman who wears his reputation as a disciplinarian with pride, had replaced the easygoing Ron Newman in the off-season. Some of the fans' favorites, notably David Irving and Eduardo Bonvallet, were early victims of the Dutchman's ax-swinging program. And soon former World Cup stars like Teofilo Cubillas of Peru and Gerd Mueller of West Germany started studying the job market of their own volition. Both may choose not to rejoin Fort Lauderdale next season.
Whatever his difficulties with players, van der Hart in one magic moment did make a linguistic innovation that might solve a problem that has haunted the NASL for years. It's the New York Cosmos, the league likes to insist. Just the Cosmos, say the Cosmos, who, after all, play in New Jersey. Van der Hart may have fixed that for good. "When we play in New Yorsey..." he said, referring to the second of two meetings between the teams in the regular season.
Indeed, in spite of their woes, the Strikers had won their first regular-season game with the Cosmos handily, 4-1, in Florida, though in New Yorsey the Cosmos had come back with a 2-0 victory. All that, however, was before Chinaglia had come into quite extraordinary form.
Last week, in practice at RFK, he belted the ball high into the stands, where normally it would have disappeared among the empty seats. No: against heavy odds it hit a seat, bop, bounced forward, hit another seat, bop, and rebounded almost to Chinaglia's feet on the field. It couldn't happen again in 20 years. It did, though. Twice. Ahead of the game, it seemed he could do nothing wrong.