Rochester Lancer forward Mike Stojanovic, saying he was merely relaying a message from an opposing player, has admitted that he told Lancer goalie Ship Messing that New England would allow a goal if Messing did the same.
This plan would have allowed both teams to make the North American Soccer League playoffs, but Messing did not go along.
Stojanovic said he was acting as a messenger for New England goalie Kevin Keelan in the Aug. 11 game in Rochester, the final regular season game for both teams, according to the New York Post and Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.
When Messing was approached by Stojanovic, Rochester was leading, 2-0, the eventual final score. Both Rochester and New England fell a point short of qualifying for the playoffs. Had the final score been 3-1, both clubs would have made it to the post-season as the final wild-card entrants, by virtue of the NASL's points-for-goals system.
"Keelan approached me and said, 'Why don't you give us a goal?" Stojanovic was quoted as saying in today's New York Post. "I said, 'It's not up to me. I'm a forward. You should score.' Keelan said, 'If you allow us to score a goal, we'll allow you to score 10 goals.' I relayed the message from Keelan to Messing."
Keelan is in England, where he is playing for Norwich City. He has not yet been reached for comment.
However, on today's nationally televised playoff game between Chicago and Fort Lauderdale, Messing, being interviewed via telephone by Jim McKay, backed off his prior comments.
"There was no serious attempt to change the score," Messing said. "But the potential is there. I think absolutely that shouldn't be the situation when both teams could benefit from a goal."
He characterized the conversation with Stojanovic as "joking around . . . no serious conversation."
According to United Press International, the situation came to light in Totonto Thursday when Messing mentioned it during his television commentary of the Cosmos-Toronto Blizzard game.
NASL Publicity Director Jim Trecker said today that Phil Woosnam, the league president, "assures us the league will conduct a complete investigation of the allegations as soon as we can. All we know right now is what's appearing in the press. We'll look into every aspect of the case. We will ask everyone involved for written reports and we will analyze our findings. There may be some time in securing the documentation, so it's difficult to put a time limit on our findings."
Messing said he was astonished by the request to yield a goal, the Rochester paper reported.
"I knew I couldn't let a goal in on purpose," he said. "I'm still in professional soccer for the sport more than anything else. No one ever told me to give up a goal intentionally. To me, the whole thing stinks.
"I'm upset we didn't qualify, but I haven't been brought up to allow goals intentionally. I allow enough as it is. I'm also upset because it looks like I'm the bad guy."
Officials of the Rochester and New England teams insist that the game was played above board.
Messing also said he was surprised that Keelan was fingered as the mastermind of the scheme.
"What if I told you that the game Keelan played was the best I had seen any keeper play this year? Messing told the New York Post. "He was that good."
Messing said Stojanovic alerted him with 3:41 left in the game when the clubs were arguing with referee Marco Dorantes over a call.
"That's when everything happened," Messing said. "My player (Stojanovic) took off and ran 80 yards to my goal, and that's when he told me that we made a deal with New England. We'd each allow a goal and we'd both clinch, while Toronto and Philadelphia wouldn't."
A little later, Messing bobbled the ball but came up with a save. "I didn't bobble it on purpose," the goalie said. "It was a good save. I could've gotten away with it right there without any suspicion.
"Then, with about a minute left, Keelan made a good save. That's why it's hard to believe Keelan wanted to fix it. But maybe after he saw me make a save, he realized I wasn't going to cooperate with them, so why should be cooperate with us."