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.
Canada was never a very hospitable country for the New York Cosmos. Trips north for the team which won five North American Soccer League titles usually ended in a loss. All-time against Canadian franchises, the Cosmos won 15, lost 18 and drew 3.
Ten of those wins came against the Toronto Metros/Blizzard, but even Canada's largest city wasn't all that friendly a place for the New Yorkers. Of the eight times Toronto beat the Cosmos, seven of them were on Canadian soil. Of the Cosmos’ four wins in Montreal, two came in overtime.
The summer of 1981 was for the most part successful for the Cosmos in Canada. The team went 3-2 that year on Canadian soil, but one of the losses was a gut-wrenching shootout decision to the Chicago Sting in Soccer Bowl 81 at Exhibition Stadium. A win in that game would have given the team back-to-back championships for the second time in five years.
The other loss was more stunning. The Cosmos were already riding a two-game losing streak. They had not lost three in a row since 1974 and were making their first trip to Edmonton.
The Drillers were themselves a team in turmoil. The team's playoff chances were fading. Their general manager had resigned but had not yet left the team, rumors were swirling that head coach Timo Liekoski, already fired once but reinstated, was about to be sacked again, the result of the team having lost six straight.
The two teams’ records at that point could not have been more different. The Cosmos were 21-7 with 182 points, more than a dozen clear of their nearest opposition, eventual Soccer Bowl winners the Chicago Sting. The Drillers were 10-8 with 104 points, ranked 18th in the 21-team league. They would have been even lower in the standings but for their 44 bonus points - the Drillers had a pretty decent offense, but their defense had not posted a shutout in more than a year.
The Cosmos play that day was as lively as the wilted, yellowing grass at Commonwealth Stadium, while the Drillers were hotter than the August afternoon sun.
Edmonton fired 14 first half shots at Cosmos goalkeeper Hubert Birkenmeier, forcing him to make back- to-back saves on shots by Drew Ferguson and Tommy Kristiansen in the eighth minute. Drillers midfield star Kai Haaskivi narrowly missed getting the team on the board in the 35th minute, when he sent a header off the crossbar. Two minutes later, Haaskivi headed a ball on net, and Edi Kirschner tapped it in.
Four minutes later, Dwight Lodeweges made a run through midfield, took a pass from Ross Ongaro and ripped a 26-yard shot that the Cosmos goalkeeper got his fingers on but could not keep out of the net.
Edmonton goalkeeper Pertti Alaja recorded 13 saves to post the team's first shutout of the season.
"It was a very poor performance, but it's a good thing this happened now and not in the playoffs,” Cosmos head coach Hennes Weisweiller said to the media after the game.
It was the high point of the season for the Drillers, who did not make the playoffs that year. For the Cosmos it was one of only nine losses in 32 regular season games that year. When the two teams met in Edmonton the following year, it also was an Edmonton win, this time 2-1.
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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