In the NASL's lexicon, 1981 edition, "expansion" is suddenly a word you wouldn't want to catch your kids using. As the hasty redeployment of franchises in the off-season showed, the league had gone too far, too fast when it bumped up its membership from 18 to 24 teams in 1978. Three sank without trace this winter and four others found themselves relocated, a couple of them in places that seemed to have been chosen by a computer with a sense of humor—Jacksonville, Fla. and Calgary, Alberta. And in recent weeks even the Cosmos, the flagship franchise, has been shipping a little water. They haven't been playing very well, and those 70,000-plus crowds at Giants' Stadium in New Jersey were a long-gone memory. Troubled times, indeed, for the NASL. For the sake of the sport, it's good luck, very good luck indeed, that Le Club de Soccer Manic de Montreal is alive and flourishing.
Le Manic is the biggest paradox of the soccer season, a new franchise built on the insubstantial ruins of the Philadelphia Fury, a club that few loved—total home attendance for 16 games in 1980: 76,445—and whose passing none lamented. It took the Montreal Manic, as the team might be called were it not located in the largely French-speaking Province of Quebec, just four home games to exceed that Philly attendance; in its first game at the Olympic Stadium it drew 27,060, the second-largest opening-game crowd for a new franchise. The game with the Cosmos last week brought in 38,667, and average attendance has been more than 22,000. The crowds are showing up even though the Manic's record in the Eastern Division, the league's toughest, is an unremarkable 6-7. But the morale of the side and its mostly joyful acceptance by the sophisticated city of Montreal promise better things.
For a closer look, though, come to the Ristorante Frascati in the Italian quarter, where a waiter isn't entirely sure if he should serve the linguine or run for his Instamatic, so excited is he over the appearance of a group from the Manic—Coach Eddie Firmani, two new players from England, Gordon Hill and Tony Towers, and Bobby Rigby, the enduring American goalie who came to Montreal with the rump of the Fury, a journey he was delighted to make.
"It was a real mishmosh," Rigby says of Philadelphia. "We'd have team meetings and guys would just laugh. It was ridiculous. I'd just come from L.A. where we had Rinus Michels [the austere former Dutch national coach who has since gone back to Europe], where we used to sit in the locker room like we were in a monastery or something. In Philly, Frank Worthington and these guys would be as loose as a goose and the Yugoslavs would be all upset and it was a joke. Our big hope was that we'd get our checks the next weekend. But here, man, it's a rebirth!"
A rebirth also for the waiter, now rapidly gaining confidence. "We of Alitalia," he declares to the table at large, referring to a local amateur side, "we play three games, we score 16 goals. I score six of them myself." And he looks at Hill penetratingly. "Why is it that you do not score a goal against the Cosmos?" he demands.
Now there's another waiter in attendance. "In Italy," he says, "I worship Chinaglia. He is nothing to me now. I am for the Manic.
"We Italians meet him before the game. 'I see you afterward,' he said to us. But me, I don't care to show up." He turns, seriously, to Firmani: "We need a libero [sweeper]," he says, "a natural libero. Andy Lynch is O.K. but...."
"The population of Italy," Firmani says, "consists of 60 million soccer coaches." Firmani ought to know; he played there for eight years before becoming the NASL's most successful coach.
The waiter misinterprets Firmani's remark. "My dream," he says passionately, "is to sit there on the bench and tell you what to do!"
The Frascati is where the Manic �toiles, the team's fan club, gathers. Today, though, the members are a little subdued. The city's French-language newspaper, La Presse, has criticized the behavior of Italian fans during the 2-1 loss to the Cosmos as "undisciplined." They had waved flags and let off rockets when Montreal evened the score at 1-1 in the first half. When the Cosmos got the winning goal in overtime while a Montreal player was writhing on the ground, injured, a number of the �toiles had attempted a small invasion of the playing field.