Polynational, Megabuck (Boring) Football
The Village Voice
Summer, 1979

When the Cosmos have a party, it’s Chinaglia and Beckenbauer and the continentals in one corner, Tueart and the Brits in another, and Alberto and Marinho and the South Americans in another. The Americans stand at the bar, left out of it all. It’s not like a team.

—Bobby Smith, ex-Cosmo

But when the Cosmos party on the field, as they did last Sunday night, they are like a team. True, they’re not a cohesive team—stylistically or otherwise—in the way the old Knicks were, and the Montreal Canadians are. Rather, they’re like a team, working as a loose coalition of international stars within Warner Communication’s Cosmic sphere. They play polynational, megabuck, Melting Pot soccer of the sort that, if less than inspiring, is usually triumphant in the NASL. Especially when they play something called the Toronto Blizzard, which was the butt of last Sunday’s joke.

The party itself was a typically casual, saturnine affair. No one had to work overtime to insure its success and no wild shoot-out ended the night with a bang. Running the whole passionless get-together at their characteristic waltz tempo, the hosts hardly had to break a sweat. Many of the jaded, increasingly blasé frequenters of such events, no doubt bored by the predictability of it all, decided to stay away in numbers totaling 25, 000. Perhaps the playoff hysteria induced by last Thursday’s somnolent 3-1 victory over the very same Toronto (a team that Warner’s had already dismissed twice in the regular season) was just not enough to pull people out to the Meadowlands.

The Blizzard, a 14 up-16 down low-pressure front miscast by NASL directors as a Legitimate Contender (16 of 24 teams quality for the playoffs) performed with all the gusto of disinterested, obsequious caterers. They managed a flurry or two, with no accumulation. The seventh-grade literalness of their attack—repeated long crosses bludgeoned to a neat, little row of strikers stated at the 18-yard line—and their sieve-like midfield defense (where the Cosmos were marked as if they were lepers) made the game look like a practice scrimmage between the starters and the splinter squad. Only, in practice, the second team usually shows more enthusiasm than did the Blizzard.

Twenty minutes into the match, the Cosmos became sufficiently aroused to produce a shot on goal. CLAP, CLAP, CLAP urged the energetic scoreboard, clap, yawn, clap responded the Pavlovian fans. Giorgio Chinaglia, who was incessantly booed, out of both the fans’ ignorance and their need to create drama at a lightweight comedy, punched in an open-net garbage goal five minutes later. Vintage Chinaglia. More boos. It was the 15th playoff goal in 16 games for the Esposito of Astroturf.

Like Espo, Chinaglia is a tall, fleshy, dark Italian whose love for the goal crease is as profound as his distaste for physical contact. His speed is deceptive: he’s slower than you think. He doesn’t play defense. He doesn’t set up others before himself. He walks around a lot. And—sin is sins—he doesn’t dribble balletically through hordes of defenders the way the American fan imagines the Archetypal Striker once did. He simply does what he is paid to do: he scores. For scoring more than anyone else, for always being in the right place at the right time, and most importantly, for defying the more obvious athletic manifestations of the WASP work ethic, Chinaglia is booed at the Meadowlands.

The remaining hour or so of the match gave the Cosmos, in the absence of an equal partner, the opportunity to play with themselves: Beckenbauer and the tireless Neeskins distributed the ball with brevity, wit, and understanding; Bogicevic, an architectonic footballer of the highest order, built foundations for plays that rarely materialized; goalie Birkenmeier, a lithic German who’s still undefeated, counted sheep, and made routine saves; and shot-happy Marinho, the Lloyd Free of soccer, took advantage of the Cosmos’s new 4-4-2 alignment by bidding farewell to his fellow defenders while authoring flamboyant, turgid displays of offensive soccer. In between nubbed shots and marvelous saves by the Toronto ‘tender, the Cosmos took turns hitting the post, a rapidly developing talent which all Cosmos seem to share. With 10 minutes left, Neeskins headed in a soft Bogie cross to add a bit of punctuation: no exclamation point on this victory, just a period.

For their efforts again Toronto, a 2-0 victory. The Cosmos won a trip to play the Roughnecks, who finished on the dark side of .500, and seem capable in name only of crashing the Cosmos’s party. In the meantime, it often appears difficult for the Cosmos to play with any killer instinct, much less intensity, or even spirit. If you need a healthy fix of those qualities, try watching the English and German league matches on public television. Fix? Who said fix?