It seemed to go just as the North American Soccer League had planned. With a crowd of 74,901 roaring, the Cosmos made winning their second straight Soccer Bowl look easy, beating the Tampa Bay Rowdies, 3-1.
The league scheduled the Soccer Bowl for Giants Stadium a year ago knowing it could double any previous championship game crowd. It also didn't worry about the advantages the Cosmos might have playing at home.
The competition wasn't helped when the Rowdies' leading scorer and top player, Rodney Marsh, was lamed by a spiken shin in Wednesday's semifinal win in Fort Lauderdale.
Although Tampa Bay played well and cut the Cosmos' lead to 2-1 with 17 minutes to play, the outcome was never in doubt. Dennis Tueart's second goal - on which the Rowdies claimed he was offside - clinched the victory with 13 minutes left.
"I was never worried about them," said Cosmos Captain Giorgio Chinaglia, who scored his club's second goal. "Not too many teams come in to Giants Stadium and win. We had lots of advantages before we even got started."
One of the biggest advantages was the absence of Marsh, the "Clown Prince" of soccer. Marsh spent most of Saturday telling the press how the Rowdies were going to pull of an upset, then pulled out two hours before game time.
Marsh's injury was not announced until just before the game started. "We didn't realize on Wednesday how bad the injury was," Coach Gordon Jago said. "If someone had told us on Friday he couldn't play we wouldn't have believed him. It was just one of those things that didn't get better."
Without Marsh, the man who sets up their offense, the Rowdies tried bunching up at the penalty box to turn aside the Cosmos. For 30 minutes it worked.
But the crowd, screaming "Cosmos, Cosmos" every time the home team got near the goal, knew that strategy couldn't work long. During those scoreless 30 minutes, Cosmos goalie Jack Brand touched the ball once, when it rolled to him.
"I thought they did a very good job with their strategy," said Cosmos Coach Eddie Firmani, who is rumored to be on his way out despite two straight titles because of a running feud with Chinglia. "Anytime you lose a player like Marsh you have a serious problem. Especially against the Cosmos."
The omnipotence of Cosmos was the main topic of discussion following the game. Tampa Bay was lauded for not being routed. Jago, said he was "proud" of his team's effort. His players agreed.
"You go into a game like this thinking you can win," said Steve Wegerle, who took over field leadership in Marsh's absence. "You have to. But, we knew the odds weren't exactly in our favor."
The odds became even longer at 30:42 when Tueart, selected as offensive player of the game, got an excellent set-up pass from fellow winger Steve Hunt and cleanly beat the Rowdies' goalkeeper, Winston DuBose, from 12 yards out on the right.
"I was just over by the post and Stevie made the whole play," Tueart said. "As soon as I realized the pass was going to reach me I just aimed for the wide side. Next thing I knew it was in the back of the net."
The goal set off the kind of cheering and confetti throwing usually seen only overseas.
At 44:30 Hunt - perhaps the Cosmos' unsung star - stole a pass, dribbled in and fired a hard shot from 15 yards out that deflected off Dubose to Chinaglia, parked in front of the goal as always.
The Italian had nothing but an open net to look at from live yards away. He headed in the ball despite a diving try at an illegal hand save by defender Mike Connell.
"They just have so much firepower, Jago said. "You stop Hunt and Chinaglia's waiting. Stop him, there's Tueart. I think they've shown all season that they are a tryly superior team."
The Cosmos went to sleep on defense in the second half. They were so intent on trying to run up the score that there was only one defender back when Mirandinha charged downfield and fired a 25-yard shot off the right post and past a stunned Brand.
"We were relaxing," Chinaglia said. "That happens to us all the time. We take 20 minutes to rest then get going when we have to."
The Cosmos appeared to receive an assist from the linesman on Tueart's clinching goal. The English winger appeared to be offside when he took Werner's Roth's pass just inside the penalty area and Tampa Bay players stopped dead in their tracks.
There was no call, however, and Tueart cruised in on DuBose and beat him easily.
"A lot of our players thought he was offside," Jago said. "But no excuses. When we made it 2-1 I thought the gods might smile on us. But I guess not."
The win added to the Cosmos' seemingly endless string of league records. They are the first back-to-back champions, and first three-time champs. The attendance was more than double last year's Soccer Bowl record crowd of 35,548 in Portland. For the year the Cosmos finished 29-8. At home they were 18-1 with a 65-17 goal margin.
Chinaglia was asked what was left for the Cosmos.
"I don't know," he said taking a long draw on a cigarette. "Today, we did what we had to, no more. I guess all that's left now is to be the best in the world. We're certainly number one in this league."