There were few surprises in the opening round of the North American Soceer League playoffs. The only team that won on the road was Fort Lauderdale, 3-1, ove the New England Tea Men.
That, however, was not really a surprise since the Strikers had come on strong in the second half and the Tea Men were one of the few teams with a better record on the road than at home.
The second round matchups are: National Conference - Cosmos vs. Minnesota, Vancouver vs. Portland; American Conference: Detroit vs. Fort Lauderdale, Tampa Bay vs. San Diego. The Strikers are the best bet for an upset in this round.
If matchups for the next round turn out to be Tampa Bay-Fort Lauderdale and Cosmos-Vancouver, it should be the most competitive and evenly matched semifinals in league history.
Many clubs are expected to ask for a change in the playoff format next season. There are strong feelings against the two-game, home-and-home format in the conference semifinals and final.
The better teams during the regular season receive virtually no benefits from their superior records. Proof of this was evident last year when all four division winners were beaten in the second round.
There also will be a strong move to cut the number of playoff teams from 16 to 12 to preclude qualifying by the likes of Philadelphia and Chicago (both 12-18).
The league barely avoided what could have been an extremely embarrassing situation Wednesday night because of a blunder by Cosmos Coach Eddie Firmani.
Firmani removed Santiago Formoso during the second half, replacing him with Nelsey Morais. One problem: Formoso was one of the two mandatory North American citizens on the field. For 1 minute 19 seconds the Cosmos played with just one North American.
Firmani finally realized his mistake and sent American Ricky Davis into the game. Jack Daley, Seattle, general manager, could have created a problem by filing a protest. He opted not to, saying that since the game wasn't close - Cosmos won 5-2 - it would not be a legitimate protest.
Nevertheless, the league is investigating the incident and league spokesman Jim Trecker said Friday he "would not be at all surprised" if some action - probably a large fine - was taken against the Cosmos.
The Philadelphia Fury made a similar mistake May 16 and were given "a substantial fine" a month later. In announcing the fine, Commissioner Phil Woosnam said if further incidents occurred, "the penalties will be stiffer."
Cosmos star Giorgio Chinaglia became an American citizen this week, again pointing up a major fallacy in the length's Americanization process.
Chinaglia is one of the league's many naturalized American citizens. The Washington Diplomats, for example, used Ane Mihalovich, Mike Bakie and Carmen Marcontonio as their Americans for much of the season.
The only native Americans who saw any substantial playing time were defender Roy Willner, who sat out much of the year with a bad knee, and Bob Stetler, the No. 2 goalkeeper. Native Americans will continue to ride the bench as long as coaches can get around the rule with Chinaglias and other naturalized citizens.