- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
It's a one-man show that has been staged many times in the NASL the past seven years. It's called Chinaglia Strikes Again! and the most recent revival came Saturday night in Soccer Bowl at San Diego. The championship game between the Cosmos and the Seattle Sounders was half an hour old, and the Cosmos' striker, Giorgio Chinaglia, might as well have been in New Jersey pondering his real-estate interests for all the impact he was having on the game. The rest of the Cosmos hadn't been making their presence felt either, as the Seattle attack hurled raid after raid at a defense that looked as if it might crumble any second.
But then Cosmos Sweeper Carlos Alberto picked up the ball in the middle and got it to Midfielder Julio Cesar Romero, who, in the way the Cosmos run things today, had learned less than four hours earlier that he would start. Romero slid the ball to the suddenly manifest Chinaglia, who bulled his way by hapless Defender Benny Dargle and hammered it high and to the right of Paul Hammond in Seattle's goal. It was 1-0 Cosmos, and that was the way it stayed.
This was the eighth Soccer Bowl and the first to rematch previous opponents. Five years ago the Cosmos beat the Sounders 2-1 for the title. And who scored the winner then? Chinaglia, of course. But that wasn't the end of the similarities between Soccer Bowl '82 and the game five years ago.
As in 1977, a great Brazilian player would bow out of the sport after this year's game. Then it was Pel�. Now it was Carlos Alberto, that stalwart defender and captain of his nation's World Cup-winning team in 1970, whose quizzical, intelligent face, lined like a road map, shows all of his 38 years. He would be seen in serious action for the last time.
And, as in '77, U.S. pro soccer's annual showpiece was played in a somewhat out-of-the-way setting. Then it was the down-at-heels Civic Stadium in Portland, Ore. On this occasion it was San Diego's less-than-pristine Jack Murphy Stadium. Also harking back to the '77 Soccer Bowl was the presence last week of Steve Hunt, the other hero of the earlier game. In Portland, Hunt had been presented with a gift-wrapped goal when Seattle Goalie Tony Chursky, in a tragicomical lapse of concentration—which, he claims, he has recalled every day since—gently rolled the ball onto Hunt's toe. Hunt has changed in the five ensuing years. He plays in midfield now, and the long blond hair that used to stream behind him as he streaked down the field is thinner and much shorter.
The nostalgia supply ran out right there, because much more has changed in the NASL since 1977 than the length and quantity of Hunt's hair. The creaky stadium in Portland was jammed to its 35,548 capacity; in San Diego only 22,634 fans rattled about in Jack Murphy, which holds 50,000. In 1977, the league's golden era was just over the horizon. The days when sellout crowds of 76,800 filled Giants Stadium for Cosmos games did come, but in 1982 that sort of turnout is a thing of the past, like the limitless optimism of NASL Commissioner Phil Woosnam.
Whatever happened to that rosy glow? Pretty much everything. Woosnam was in effect demoted in June when Howard Samuels was brought in to fill the new job of league president. In San Diego, Samuels, a 62-year-old New York businessman and politician and soccer player as an MIT undergraduate, said starkly, "Professional soccer in this country is a total failure." He was brought in by the league to direct a desperate salvage operation. He has allotted two years to accomplish it. Samuels estimates NASL franchise owners may have lost as much as $800 million over the past 15 years. This season alone, he says, with attendance down yet again—by 18%—and the franchises at Edmonton, Jacksonville and Portland in imminent danger of folding, the average deficit for an NASL club has been considerably more than $1 million.
And so, at the President's Reception earlier in the week—until Samuels' arrival it had been called the Commissioner's Reception—the talk was of gloomy paradoxes and odd panaceas. The chief paradox was the fact that the league's parlous state coincides with an upsurge in U.S. youth soccer that, in some areas, has more youngsters playing that game than are turning out for football or baseball. The most-discussed panacea was Samuels' concept of making the U.S. national squad a franchise in the league, thus pitting a team of the best American players against the foreign-dominated NASL sides and allowing the league to cash in on patriotic fervor.
As it happened, the clouds over San Diego last week weren't merely metaphorical. Hurricane Norman stirred up rainstorms that threatened to turn Jack Murphy into wetlands worthy of the Sierra Club's attention. In the omens department, though, the league could take comfort from the sun that shone through on Saturday. That at least guaranteed a crowd that wouldn't be as humiliatingly small as pregame ticket sales had indicated it might be.
And for once, also, Soccer Bowl didn't look like a mismatch. Though Seattle had gotten off to an unhappy start in the regular season—it had been 0-4, then 4-9—the Sounders had ended up winning the Western Division, having scored just one fewer goal, 72 to 73, on the year than the Cosmos. In the teams' two regular-season meetings, each game resulted in a 3-2 score, with the home side on top.