We all knew about Giorgio Chinaglia, though I’m not sure
if it was because he played for the New York Cosmos, or if he may have been the
best player in the world, or if it was because he was on a poster that could be
seen (and purchased) in any sporting goods store.
There was Doc, George Gervin sitting on blocks of ice,
Darrell “Dr. Dunkenstein” Griffith, and Giorgio.
Of course the Cosmos also had Pelé, the greatest player
ever, for a few seasons and attracted a diverse New York glitterati fandom,
like Mick Jagger, Stephen Speilberg and Henry Kissinger. It wasn’t just Pelé
they all came to see, either. Of course he was the main attraction since we
weren’t used to superstars going by just one name in those days — be they Brazilian
or not — but the Cosmos were very much like the Yankees.
But Chinaglia was a scoring machine and that’s why he was
on a poster. In 213 career games with the Cosmos, Giorgio scored 193 goals. Add
in the playoffs and he tallied 242 goals in 254 games.
So when the Cosmos came to The District to play our
Washington Diplomats in a key regular-season NASL matchup in 1980 at RFK
Stadium, we had to be there. Calendars were marked, parents were begged, and
friends were bragged to about going to the game to see the Cosmos play the
Now we all know what it’s like when the Yankees or Red Sox
show up in another city (or the Phillies go to DC to play the Nats). There’s a
tendency for the bandwagon-jumpers and the displaced natives to show up and
make a lot of noise in the foreign ballpark. That was always the way for the
Yankees since they have always been equally despised as much as beloved.
Needless to say it was a bit different for the burgeoning
Cosmos of the NASL. First of all, the league eventually went out of business
three seasons later. The reasons for that are myriad, of course, but mostly come
down to the fact that it was soccer and the United States. It also was a league
filled with guys with funny names and even funnier haircuts and mustaches. That
had to count against it, too.
However, the Cosmos were so loaded with talent that no
one hated them as much as they were impressed. It wasn’t quite the
Globetrotters vs. the Generals when the Cosmos played other teams, but it was
Aside from being really good, the Cosmos were the only
other team from which we could name the players. Oh sure, we knew all the
Diplomats and followed the games very closely. Plus, the Dips did an excellent
job of promoting the team to us kids. Just by going to a game we were rewarded
with high quality balls and jerseys that we used until they wore out. In fact,
the other night in The District I was talking to a guy my age who remembers kicking
around a ball while wearing the shirt he got at a Dips game.
Yes, we loved the Dips and the NASL brand of soccer. But
damn if we weren’t impressed by the Cosmos.
Needless to say, we couldn’t take our eyes off of Giorgio
when he dashed across the turf at RFK that sunny Sunday afternoon in 1980. In
fact, he scored that day and the Cosmos won the game. But that wasn’t before an
Englishman named Alan Green stole the show.
Green scored two goals for the Dips during the second
half to tie the game and whip the old football stadium into a frenzy. Better
yet, Green made a ton of fans that day and made a lot of us think that he was as
tenacious as Giorgio Chinaglia. That may not have been the case, but thanks to
Green we got to stay at RFK for overtime and then a game-deciding shootout,
where the Cosmos finally prevailed.
Still, what a perfect day. Kids never want the game to
end no matter what, and the fact that the Dips and Cosmos put on a big show
that day made it even better. The truth is I went to a bunch of Dips games that
year and watched even more on TV (including one from the Vet against the
Philadelphia Fury), but the one I remember most vividly was that game where
Alan Green and Giorgio Chinaglia got busy.
Maybe the reason why I remember it is because it was the
very last pro soccer game I had ever attended… until today. This little story
is being written from Lincoln Financial Field where the latest team from
Washington (and latest version of the Cosmos?), D.C. United, will play in the
home debut for the Philadelphia United of the MLS. The sporting landscape has
changed incredibly since 1979 and the NASL was trying to make it with an aging Pelé
as the drawing card. Soccer in the U.S. can survive as long as it remains in
its niche. Actually, it very well might get better ratings nationally than the
But yes, it has to know its place.
As for Giorgio Chinaglia, last we heard he had gained his
U.S. citizenship and was wanted in Italy on extortion and laundering charges
linked to shares of the Lazio soccer team.
Alan Green also became a U.S. citizen and played for the
national team for a game in 1984, and Pelé is still Pelé.
Soccer, of course, is doing quite well, too. The sport in
this country is even getting its own stadiums, too, and those things are much
more difficult to tear down than an entire league .
 Impressively, I decorated my Diplomats
jersey with an authentic patch from the English football club, Arsenal. It was
a gift from friends who lived in England and I still wish I had the patch and
the shirt… only in my size now.