By Charles Cuttone
It’s been almost 29 years to the day since the New York Cosmos were last in first place in the North American Soccer League.
Of course, for America's most dominant and decorated soccer team, there is a reason for the lag. The team hadn't played a game in 29 years until taking the field this August. But they now find themselves in a familiar position, atop the table.
In their first tenure, in the original North American Soccer League, the Cosmos won the league title five times. The Cosmos also finished with the best overall record in the league seven times, including six straight from 1978-1983. They had a chance to make it seven in a row in 1984, going into their final four games of the season, but a late season collapse proved costly and gave their heated rivals the Chicago Sting the regular season crown.
The Cosmos had four games remaining on September 4 of that year, while the Sting and the Toronto Blizzard each had two games left. The Cosmos were sitting atop the Eastern division with 110 points, while Toronto had 109 and Chicago 108.
The late season collapse came only weeks after the transfer of majority ownership of the club from Warner Communications to a group headed by the team's all-time scoring leader, Giorgio Chinaglia.
The Cosmos had a dramatic 4-3 win over the Golden Bay Earthquakes on September 3, giving them a grip on first place in the NASL East. Trailing 3-0 at halftime, the Cosmos came back on goals by Andrew Parkinson, Vladislav Bogicevic and Stan Terlecki, then got the game winner with 43 seconds left in the game when Bogie set up Chico Borja.
Two nights later, the Cosmos need a shootout to beat Toronto, 2-1, providing them with only four points for the win, plus a bonus point for the goal in regulation, instead of the full six points plus the bonus. Italian legend Roberto Bettega scored for the Blizzard just 34 seconds into the game and Ricky Davis got the equalizer for the Cosmos on a free kick in the 41st minute, in a game in which the midfielder started at center forward.
Cosmos goalkeeper Hubert Birkenmeier was nearly perfect in the shootout, allowing only one Blizzard to score, Bruce Wilson. The win was the Cosmos third in a row and came in front of the smallest crowd to see the team play at Giants Stadium, 8,736. It gave the Cosmos 115 points to Toronto's 110, but Toronto won their finale on Sept 9 against Tampa Bay and Chicago's 3-2 win over Tampa Bay on Sept 7 gave them 113 points. The Cosmos still had three games remaining, while Chicago had one game remaining--against the Cosmos.
But the Cosmos, who were dealing with injuries to a number of their offensive starters, including Steve Moyers, Roberto Cabanas and Alan Green, suffered back-to back losses on the road, failing to score against Tulsa (2-0) and Golden Bay (1-0). That set up a winner-take-all game against Chicago for the Eastern Division crown and a spot in the playoffs.
The Cosmos needed only two goals in their last three games, win or lose, to clinch a playoff berth, but could not get them. They fell to the Chicago Sting 1-0 on a goal by on a goal by Karl- Heinz Granitza with 48 seconds left. The win gave Chicago 120 points. The Cosmos finished with 115 points, in third place and out of the playoffs for the first time since 1975. It was the end of their dynasty, and shortly thereafter, the end of the league.
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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