By Charles Cuttone
Every week, writers from the popular Soccer News Net online network contribute exclusive content to NASL.com, offering topical commentary on current soccer news and issues, as well as looking back at the history of the game in the United States.
The New York Cosmos’ 1977 season is often remember for two events: the team winning the Soccer Bowl Championship in Pele's last competitive game, and the crowd of 77,691 that streamed through the gates of Giants Stadium for a playoff encounter with the Fort Lauderdale Strikers.
Often forgotten was the playoff series sandwiched in between those two events, a two-game David and Goliath affair against the Rochester Lancers.
The Lancers advanced to face the Cosmos in what was one of the best NASL playoff series of all time. The Lancers beat defending champions Toronto Metros Croatia via a shootout in the first game of the series in Rochester then, after going two men down in the first half, won the return match 1-0 on a 77th minute goal by Ibraim Silva, who had also scored the shootout winner in the game in Toronto.
But the Lancers, a low budget operation with problems both on the field and off, proved to be no match for the Cosmos.
In the first game, played in front of a standing room only crowd of 20,005 at Hollander Stadium, the Cosmos prevailed 2-1. Giorgio Chinaglia and Steve Hunt, who went on to score the Cosmos goals in the Soccer Bowl win against the Seattle Sounders a week later, both found the net in a 3:30 span, and Shep Messing, who later played for the Lancers, made some key saves in a 2-1 win.
A few days later, back at Giants Stadium, the Cosmos easily cleared their last hurdle before Soccer Bowl ’77, dominating the Rochester Lancers 4-1 Wednesday before 73,669 deliriously drenched fans at Giants Stadium.
If the rain that pounded down throughout the game bothered the Cosmos, they didn’t show it. Hunt set up Chinaglia for a pair of first-half goals, and Pelé did his best to ensure that he would retire from pro soccer as a champion, with a goal and an assist within a 12-minute span of the second stanza.
Chinaglia put the game away just 16:05 after the opening kickoff, thanks to Hunt’s workmanlike run down the wing. After running onto Vito Dimitrijevic’s midfield pass, Hunt blew past defenders Don Droege and Miralem Fazlic to take on netminder Jack Brand. After Brand came off his line and shifted to cover Hunt, the young Englishman dished off to Chinaglia, who tapped home the shot from inches off the line.
Just under seven minutes later, the pair offered up a repeat performance, with Hunt once again dribbling down the wing. This time, he cut inside of his defender to get off a leading pass from the top of the box that Chinaglia met in full stride and one-touched past the helpless Brand for his league-record eighth playoff goal.
The two quick goals appeared to completely demoralize the Lancers, who were outshot 25-9 by the final whistle. Meanwhile, the Cosmos kept right on pressing. At the 47:33 mark, Dimitrijevic worked a long-range give and go with Pelé to make the score 3-0. Starting at the Rochester 35-yard line, Dimitrijevic sent a cross-field pass to Pelé and cut in for the return pass, which Pele chipped over the Lancers’ defense. Brand managed to block the first rocket shot, but left a rebound which Dimitrijevic controlled on the bounce and sent into the net.
Silva, who took both of Rochester’s second-half shots, spoiled Messing’s shutout bid at 53:41, off a long service into the box from John Pedro. But Pele took the point back at 59:11, after a collision between two Rochester defenders left a loose ball at his feet.
The Cosmos swept the home-and-home conference championship against the Lancers, moving on to the Soccer Bowl to face the Seattle Sounders, who had gotten past the Los Angeles Aztecs to advance.
Charles Cuttone is Executive Editor of Soccer News Net, whose web sites include www.bigapplesoccer.com, www.dcsoccernews.com, www.DCSoccerNews.com and www.SunshineSoccerNews.com. Follow him on twitter @ccsports
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