Ahmet Ertegun, president of the Cosmos, stood in the middle of his team's dressing room glad-handling everyone in sight, accepting congratulations from friends and supporters.
"Great result," people kept repeating, as Ertegun grinned. True, the result was a 1-0 loss, but it was to World Cup soccer champion Argentina at the end of a week of turmoil and turnover that has become an almost daily part of the Cosmos' operation.
So, thinking of the close game and the 70,000 people in the stands, Ertegun was smiling.
Once again he and his brother Nesuhi, chairman of the board, had thrown North America's best known soccer team into seeming chaos - firing Coach Eddie Firman - only to emerge not only intact, but perhaps improved.
In the eight-year history of the Cosmos, seemingly wild gambles - such as spending millions of dollars on foreign players - have become commonplace. Such moves, however, have turned an almost extinct franchise into a multimillion-dollar soccer showcase.
Under the Erteguns, the Cosmos have become the North American Soccer League's centerpiece. The club is averaging more than 50,000 fans a game in beautiful Giants Stadium, has won back-to-back league titles and attracted worldwide attention by pruchasing and displaying for U.S. soccer fans such international stars as Pele, Franz Beckenbauer and Giorgio Chinaglia.
In spite of all this, the organization is in a constant state of upheaval-front-office personnel, players and coaches coming and going through a revolving door. A hero one day often is traded or fired the next.
Such was the case with Firmani, who coached the Cosmos to NASL titles in 1977 and 1978 and a 9-2 record in 1979, only to be fired June 1.
Wide criticism of that decision in the media in the days leading up to the match with Argentina led many to predict a 6-0 Argentine rout against the dissension-ridden Cosmos. Instead, the Argentines were lucky to win.
"I think we played as well against Argentina as we have ever played," Ertegun said later, his deep voice full of pride and self assurance. "Look, we want to make this one of the best teams in the world and we are going to take whatever steps we feel necessary to accomplish that.
"If that means doing things that people aren't going to like and being criticized for it, that's fine. Look at our record. Look at what we've done so far. Look at what we've won."
Winning, however, isn't always enough for the Erteguns, who insist on having a hand in the day-to-day running of the club - on the field and off.
"I cannot speak about the Cosmos at the moment," Firmani said last week. "I wish to remain silent and not cast any stones."
Pressed, however, Firmani said, "I enjoyed my experience with Cosmos. I mean I enjoyed dealing with the players and with the public. It was the other facets I didn't enjoy so much that I don't wish to speak of."
The implication is clear and team sources freely admit that Firmani, named coach of the New Jersey Americans this week, simply refused to take any more direct orders from the Erteguns and was fired as a result.
Gordon Bradley, now coach of the Washington Diplomats, had a similar experience just before Firmani replaced him in 1977. Ironically, the two men are friends and talked frequently about the frustrations of the job after Firmani took over.
"One thing which makes it difficult is that men like Eddie and I grew up with a system, a system which allowed the caoches to choose their teams and then put those teams on the field as they saw fit," Bradley said.
"That way if a coach chooses the right players and wins, he gets the credit. If not, he takes the blame, period. Here, though, especially with Cosmos, a coach feels like he doesn't control his own destiny."
Ahmet Ertegun insists Firmani, who is 45, was fired "because he just didn't have the team together in spirit."
"Look," Ertegun said "I think Eddie Firmani's a terrific human-being, and I think he's probably relieved that this is over.
"There was dissension in our locker room. I understand that we're probably going to always have dissension. Coaching the Cosmos is one of the hardest jobs in the world. We've got a lot of great players. We've also got a lot of personalities, you know, egos."
The biggest ego, team sources have said for the past four years, is also the biggest star: Chinaglia. Although midfielder Beckenbauer and defender Carlos Alberto probably are more highly regarded by their peers, it is the handsome, volatile Italian who is always the center of attention and controversy.
Resplendent in his blue-and-white bathrobe, Chinaglia holds court with the media after every game. He is witty and he scores goals, and when he is unhappy, the person he is unhappy with historically has come out on the short end when management enters the scene.
Bradley and Chinaglia were reportedly at odds just before Bradley was removed as coach. The same is being said of Firmani and Chinaglia.
Chinaglia won't discuss it.
"It's all over now," he said, coldly. "The old coach is gone, the new coach is here and we're trying to play the best we can. Why talk about something when it's history?"
"You learn to live with the atmosphere; said Gary Etherington, Northern Virginia's contribution to the Cosmos. "I'm not saying that it's good or bad, but you kind of get used to it - its a part of your life day-in and day-out. Once you get on the soccer field it's still the same game and you've still got the same job to do."
The new game in town is figuring out just who the new coach is.
Ray Klivecka, assistant under Firmani, was named acting coach after Firmani was fired, but four days later Professor Julio Mazzei, Pele's old interpreter, was named "interim technical director."
Most observers agree Mazzei is the coach and Klivecka is his assistant. Since they took over, the Cosmos have won three of five NASL games, in addition to the loss to Argentina.
Ertegun said he is extremely pleased with the way the Cosmos have played this season, considering the absence of the injured Beckenbauer (who may be out for the year), Vladislav Bogicevic, Eskandarian and Marinho.
But in the same breath he said he wants "a top, world-renowned coach, who can give this team the kind of spirit and evenness of play we're looking for."
Some say the man Ertegun is trying to lure into the job is Cesar Menotti, Argentine national coach.
With the addition of Dutch midfielder Johann Neeskens to replace Beckenbauer and the rest of the injured players either back or expected to return soon, the Cosmos again look like the class of the NASL.
"We want American soccer to grow. We think that very important," Ertegun said. "Right now, people around the world kind of look down at American soccer. They say it's a circus and call it a graveyard for ancient stars. We're changing that, it's changing all over the league.
t"But we want the Cosmos to be one of the world's best teams, as good as anyone. If that means being criticized, so be it. You have to stand up for what you believe in."
And what the Erteguns believe in is winning-winning their way even if it means constant turmoil.
"Some people see all the fighting and they say we're the Yankees of soccer," Chinaglia said with a grin. "It's true, right? We're champions and so are they." CAPTION: Picture 1, Eddie Firmani; Picture 2, Upheaval in the front office of soccer's Cosmos rivals commotion of crosstown New York Yankees, but the NASL champs continue to thrive. By Doug Chevalier-The Washington Post