The Cosmos ran out of time today-- literally-- and were dethroned as champions of the North American Soccer League by the Vancouver Whitecaps in an afternoon of soccer that left 44,100 fans in Giants Stadium limp from exhaustion and excitement.

The Cosmos were finally beaten when their Nelsi Morais, taking the final shot of the second shootout of the day, kicked the ball one second after the five-second deadline. His shot hit the middle of the net but it was too late and the Whitecaps had a 3-2 shootout advantage giving them a 1-0 win in the minigame that decided the best-of-three series.

Vancouver will play the winner of Sunday's Tampa Bay-San Diego game in the Soccer Bowl here Saturday. The Cosmos had won the title the last two seasons.

"It is the biggest win of my career, the biggest win, I think, for all of us," said Vancouver goalkeeper Phil Parkes. "It seemed like an endless afternoon, but we finally did it."

It took 3 hours, 40 minutes to decide the issue. The Cosmos, led by Giorgio Chinaglia, who had two goals, tied the series at one game each, winning the regulation game 3-2, after taking a shootout, 3-1.

Intense as the regulation game was-- Vancouver tied it on a header by Willie Johnston with 5:30 left-- it was merely a preliminary to the minigame.

Both teams were exhausted from the 80-degree heat and 65 percent humidity. And the Cosmos were missing Carlos Alberto and Eskandarian-- Alberto suspended after Wednesday night's opening game of the series for allegedly spitting on a linesman and Eskandarian red carded for a deliberate tackle with eight seconds left in the 2-0 loss-- Dennis Tueart and Seninho, the latter two with leg injuries.

But both teams dragged themselves through the 30 minutes and both appeared to score goals.

"It was awful out there in the minigame," said Cosmos midfielder Ricky Davis. "Everyone was hurting by then. The heat and the intensity just wore everybody down."

Worn down or not, Vancouver's Carl Valentine appeared to have scored at the 15:55 mark. He charged down the left side and blasted a 20-yard shot that beat Cosmos goalie Hubert Birkenmeier, hit the crossbar and bounced down either on or over the line across the goal mouth.

Referee Toros Kibritjian and linesman Peter H. Johnson seemed to indicate a goal. Chinaglia charged across the field and shoved Johnson. Professor Julio Mazzei, the Cosmos director, was right behind yelling in the referee's face.

The call was reversed because, according to Kibritjian, Johnson, who is from Bethesda, Md., was not sure if the ball was in and the referee did not think it was a goal.

The reversal seemed to give the Cosmos new life and they began pressing the attack. With two minutes left, Franz Beckenbauer, playing sweeper in the absence of Alberto, rushed up and took a pass from Mark Liveric, the former Washington Diplomat.

"It was a simple give-and-go play," Liveric said. "Franz took it, I ran into the box and got it back. I swear, I never touched anyone, I just got the ball back and scored."

But as Liveric leaped into the air in celebration and the stadium exploded with noise, refereee Kibritjian ran up indicating there was no goal because Liveric had fouled defender Bob Bolitho going for the ball. A television replay appeared to confirm the call.

"In five seconds I scored the biggest goal of my career, then had the biggest disappointment of the career," Liveric said. "I can't even tell you how I feel. That goal meant the whole season. It was a dream come true, then a nightmare."

The nightmare finally became real for the seemingly invincible Cosmos in the second shootout. In the first shootout, the Whitecaps had scored only once in four tries against Birkenmeier, who had never been in a shootout before.

As a result, Vancouver Coach Tony Waiters changed shooters, leading off with Bob Lenarduzzi, the only player to score in the first shootout, then using different men the rest of the way.

"We've lost five out of six shootouts this season and didn't do very well the first time, did we?" Waiters said. "I thought different players might bring us a bit of luck."

They did.

Lenarduzzi went two for two with a chip shot to lead off and was quickly equaled by the Cosmos' Johan Neeskens, who played in spite of a separated shoulder. Bolitho missed for Vancouver but, to the astonishment of all, so did Beckenbauer.

"I was just trying to cut down the angles," Parkes said. "I really hate the shootout. We all do. It's like flipping a coin. It isn't soccer."

Valentine made the score of the coin flip 2-1 with a hard shot past Birkenmeier in the third round and was equaled by Terry Garbett, playing his final game before retiring.

Derek Possee, a late substitute by Waiters, made it 3-2, Vancouver, with a short chip shot. "I didn't really want to shoot," he said. Davis, a hero earlier, missed for the Cosmos.

The final round, Alan Ball had a chance to clinch it for Vancouver but Birkenmeier dove out to stop him. The crowd was in hysterics as Morais came out to try and send the shootout into overtime.

Morais, who later refused to speak to reporters, charged at Parkes and cut to his right as Parkes came to meet him. But he went too far and the clock ran out before he could unleash the kick.

"I knew when he went right he wasn't going to make it," Parkes said. "What a great feeling."