By Michael Lewis
No one realized it at the time, but the 1982 Soccer Bowl was going to be the last hurrah for the New York Cosmos and that they would have to wait more than three decades before they would return to the North American Soccer League championship game.
The ’82 team certainly proved to be a formidable side, accruing more points than anyone else during the regular season with a 23-9 record and 203 points to capture the Eastern Division crown.
Striker Giorgio Chinaglia won the scoring title on the strength of his 20 goals and 15 assists for 51 points.
Steve Moyers (13 goals, nine assists), Steve Hunt (nine goals, 15 assists), J.C. Romero and Vladislav Bogicevic (four goals, 24 assists) also made the Cosmos a formidable attacking side with the likes of goalkeeper Hubert Birkenmeier, defenders Andranik Eskandarian, Jeff Durgan and Robert Iarusci and midfielders Johan Neeskens, and Rick Davis forming a solid supporting cast.
The path to Soccer Bowl was not all smooth.
Guided by Prof. Julio Mazzei, the Cosmos needed three games to dispose of the Tulsa Roughnecks in the opening round of the playoffs. After romping to a 5-0 triumph in the opener behind Chinaglia's two goals at home, they dropped the road match, 1-0, before Hunt tallied the lone goal in a 1-0 home win
They then dispatched the San Diego Sockers, who were to host the 1982 Soccer Bowl in southern California, by a pair of 2-1 results, with Roberto Cabanas scoring in each encounter, and Durgan in the first game and Chinaglia in the clincher.
That set up a rematch of the 1977 Soccer Bowl between the Cosmos and the Seattle Sounders.
In this confrontation, however, the Sounders took the game to the Cosmos as they enjoyed the early run of play, but could not capitalize.
"We could have won the game by halftime," Seattle midfielder Alan Hinton told Soccer America. "It's very disappointing. You have to take what the cosmos give you, which we did not. Their goal was totally against the grain of play. We played a terrific game in the first half and they just wore us down in the second half."
The Cosmos found the back of the net in the 31st minute. Romero kicked the ball toward the Seattle penalty area. Chinaglia screened off defender Benny Dargle and caught up to the ball at the top of the penalty area. Chinaglia blasted a hard right-footed shot and whipped it into the far corner for what turned out to be the lone goal of the match at Jack Murphy Stadium.
"What can I say?" Chinaglia said. "I am paid to score goals. As soon as I got the ball, I knew I was going to score. I was in good position and as soon as I hit the ball, I knew it was a goal."
The Cosmos managed to hold on for a win.
In 1977, they defeated the Sounders by a goal, 2-1, in Pele's final competitive match.
Five years later, they won by a goal for another Brazilian legend -- central defender Carlos Alberto, who was playing in his last competitive game.
"It was a special game, my last official one, but emotionally I felt about the same before," Alberto told this writer. "I was worried and I smoked a lot of cigarettes today. I wanted to be a champion again. ... I am very happy now and that's not because I'm stopping play, but because we won."
While Alberto was talking to reporters, a makeshift samba band -- composed of Cosmos players, onlookers and fanatics chanted the names of the players to the music of Jose Marti's "Guantanamera."
The samba started with Alberto, went to Hunt, then to Davis before serenading Birkenmeier.
Birkenmeier did not appear to be in a celebratory mood. He had registered his third consecutive Soccer Bowl shutout -- the others being Fort Lauderdale Strikers in 1980 and Chicago Sting in 1981-- and he extended his personal scoreless streak to 285 minutes in a Soccer Bowl.
"I dedicated this game to my mother when she died in August," Birkenmeier told this writer. "I promised we would win the Soccer Bowl for her."
Birkenmeier and his Cosmos teammates came through for his mother with their fifth NASL crown.
Above the cover masthead of the Sept. 23, 1982 edition of Soccer America, the headline said it all:
Cosmos Are Back as No. 1!
Whether the Cosmos can achieve similar results against the Atlanta Silverbacks in Soccer Bowl in Atlanta on Nov. 9 and produce their sixth championship and similar headlines remains to be seen. Stay tuned.
Michael Lewis is Editor of www.bigapplesoccer.com
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