The Cosmos.

The name conjures up an image. Talent galore. Gobs of money. Fights, constant fights. Coaches being fired. Sore losers. Glamor and controversy in every corner of the locker room.

The team that will come into RFK Stadium Sunday to face the Washington Diplomats at 2 p.m. still brings with it many of those elements.

But it is not the same. Striker Giorgio Chinaglia still is leading the league in scoring, But he's no longer even in the top 10 in temper tantrums.

And perhaps most important, there is no question about who is in charge. The coach is Hennes Weisweiler, 64, a veteran German coach brought in to try to bring some sanity to an insane situation.

So far, Weisweiler is succeeding so well he is making what seemed impossible a year ago appear easy.

"We are communicating very well," said Weisweiler, his English still halting, but clear, "The players have all been very good. I think they enjoy seeing me come onto the field during practice to work with the ball."

And the Cosmos have responded to his coaching. They come to Washington with a 7-2 record and seem well on their way to a third straight National Conference East championship. They have not lost in four league games and four exhibitions since Weisweiler arrived. Last week, they won the first Trans-Atlantic Cup, beating Manchester City of England and A.C. Roma of Italy and tying the Vancouver Whitecaps.

Chinaglia, according to Weisweiler, has played a key role, but not just by scoring goals. "Giorgio has been wonderful," Weisweiler said. "He has helped me make the connection between the international stars on the team and the young Americans. He has helped me understand them and they me."

A Cosmo coach lauding Chinaglia for the spirit of cooperation is somewhat akin to Jimmy Carter calling Leonid Brezhnev a great humanitarian.

This is not to say that all is wine and roses in the Meadowlands. Dutch defender Wim Rijsbergen, a starter last year but a part-time player this season, had an angry confrontation with executive vice president Rafael de la Sierra in the locker room Monday after not playing against Vancouver.

Rumors continue that Franz Beckenbauer, 34, wants to return to West Germany next year to finish his career. "Definitely not true," said Weisweiler. "He will be back next year."

But overall, the team is playing good soccer and getting along better than at anytime since Pete first arrived almost five years ago.

To put the significance of that new-found harmony in perspective, one must consider last season. On June 1, Eddie Firmani was fired as coach. All he did was win two Soccer Bowls and start his third season 9-2. Not good enough. He was fighting with Chinaglia and with management. He was gone.

The rest of the season would have made an outstanding soap-opera script. First, Ray Klivecka was named coach. Days later, Julio Mazzei was named "interim technical director," the first, and hopefully last, in NASL history to hold such a position.

The team lost its championship in the semifinals to Vancouver, then management tried to claim that the league had cheated to make the team lose. If the Cosmos' whinings hadn't been so sad, they would have been remarkably funny.

Eyebrows were raised when Weisweiler was hired. He was, after all, 64. He had a reputation as an inflexible authoritarian, hardly the type of coach one would picture with the Cosmos. He had even lost a job once -- in Barcelona -- because of a dispute with Johan Cruyff.

"It has all worked out," Weisweiler said. "The players know what I want, I know what they want. This league has surprised me. It is better than I thought. There are a number of good teams."

As for facing Cruyff: "Johan is an excellent player," Weisweiler said.

What did Weisweiler think of him as a person? "Johan is an excellent player," Weisweiler said again.

The man has a sense of humor. That may be the secret of his success. If a coach can't laugh at things, he probably won't last long with the Cosmos.

The Cosmos will be without one of their newer international stars Sunday. Francois Van der Elst, the Belgian winger, has returned home temporarily for European Cup play . . . Defender Jeff Durgan, not yet 19, is the youngest starting player in the NASL. Last year's American flash, Ricky Davis, has played well lately . . . Former Diplomat Mark Liveric, a part-time starter with the Cosmos the last two seasons, may be traded soon. The arrival of Van der Elst and Roberto Cabanas (from Paraguay) has made him expendable . . . A man to watch is midfielder Johan Neeskens, one of the most underrated players in the league, perhaps the world.