The Washington Diplomats played one of the best and most memorable games in their seven years yesterday in front of a record crowd of 53,351 at RFK Stadium.
There was just one problem. When three hours of soccer and mayhem ended, the Cosmos left the field with a controversial 2-1 victory, outscoring the Diplomats, 1-0, in a shootout.
The major controversy came near the end of regulation when what appeared to be a game-winning goal by the Diplomats' Alan Green was disallowed by referee Toros Kibritjian. Earlier, a goal by Johan Cruyff had been disallowed by Kibritjian.
After Green's goal was canceled, senior linesman Gordon Arrowsmith was pushed by the Diplomats' Joe Horvath, punched by a fan and, finally, hit on the back of his head by an object thrown from the stands.
The record will show that Vladislav Bogicevic beat Bill Irwin with a right-footed kick in the fifth and final shootout round for the game-winning goal. It also will show that Bob Iarusci scored for the Diplomats at 34:42 of the first half on a penalty kick that gave the Dips a 1-0 lead, and that Giorgio Chinaglia got the equalizer at 55:41 on an excellent head shot.
But there was far more to this game than the Diplomats' third shootout loss of the season and second in two weeks. This was the day almost everything came together for a team that has struggled to survive for seven years.
"We told (the players) that as far as we were all concerned, we won this game, 3-1," said the team president, Steve Danzansky. "If I have my way those officials will never work in this stadium again."
To say the least, Kibritjian and Arrowsmith played crucial roles in the final outcome.
The second call-back also resulted in a red card for Horvath, who was not in the game at the time, a second yellow card for Cruyff -- who had been injured and had left the game at halftime -- and, after the game, a red card for Carmine Marcantonio, who reportedly hurled a towel at Arrowsmith as he was leaving the field.
"There are 50,000 people in the stands, the whole country watching on television, two good teams playing and what happens?" Cruyff said. "These guys haven't got any idea what's going on. It was a joke."
Diplomat spokesman Jim Trecker said last night the club will file a formal protest with the league this morning. He said the team will protest the decision to disallow what would have been the team's second goal with 3:53 left in regulation and will protest the red cards.
The Dips also will ask the league if a goalie is allowed to receive medical treatment during a shootout. Hubert Birkenmeier was accompanied behind the net by a member of the Cosmos' contingent during the shootout until Irwin protested and the man was ordered back to the bench. If a goalie receiving treatment is not legal, the Dips say they will also protest on those grounds.
The play that caused most of the mayhem started with Green dribbling into the box on the right side, spinning past a defender and lining up a shot on Birkenmeier.
Birkenmeier got his left hand on the eight-yard shot but the ball twisted by him. As it bounced toward the goal line, Washington's Kenneth Mokgojoa and Cosmos defender Jeff Durgan flashed through, each trying to get to the ball. It appeared both missed and the ball bounced into the net.
But as the diplomats began celebrating, Arrowsmith had his flag in the air.
He had called a high kicking foul on Mokgojoa. Kibritjian ran in, concurred with Arrowsmith's call and ruled no goal.
The Diplomats charged Arrowsmith. Horvath, who had been replaced by Mokgojoa a few moments earlier, and Iarusci led the way. Arrowsmith stood, shaking his head as the Dips screamed. Finally, Horvath pushed him. Then he pushed him again. t
Arrowsmith raised his flag again to indicate he wanted Kibritjian to make a call on Horvath. As he did a spectator came out of the stands and punched Arrowsmith, knocking him down.
Arrowsmith got up. By now Washington Coach Gordon Bradley and Cruyff had come down to the corner and were trying to pull their players away. Several Dips were restraining Iarusci, who said later, "I just kept telling him, 'You're a robber, you've robbed us twice now.'" Suddenly, Arrowsmith pitched forward, flat on his face, having been struck on the head by either a rock or a bottle thrown from the stands. He was cut on the back of his head and still was woozy after the game.
When the argument finally broke up, Kibritjian marched over to the Washington bench to give Horvath the red card Arrowsmith had recommended for the pushing.
When he arrived he was greeted by Cruyff, who already had received a yellow card in the first half for "verbal dissent."
"I told him he didn't know what he was doing, that he was a terrible official," Cruyff said.
For that, Cruyff received a second yellow card, which in the NASL equals a red ejection card.
He was using abusive language and inciting the other players," Kibritjian said. "I gave him all the rope I could because of his stature. When he didn't stop, I gave him the card."
Arrowsmith said he called the foul on Mokgojoa because "the Washington player fouled the Cosmos player by going through him to get the ball."
Kilbritjian, in explaining the play, first said, "when the ball was passed into the goal mouth (Green's shot), one of the Washington players deliberately tripped a Cosmos player, so I called a foul."
Later, Kibritjian said Arrowsmith had called the foul and that he concurred.
From the start the Diplomats were the better team, playing before the largest crowd in the NASL this season. Their superiority seemed to pay dividends at the 23:41 mark. Off a beautiful corner kick from Horvath, Cruyff skied and slammed a 12-foot header into the back of the net, appearing to have scored his first goal of the season for a 1-0 Washington lead.
But no. Kibritjian ruled that Green "interfered with the goalie" by standing directly in front of him as Cruyff was heading the ball.
"I was at least three yards away from him," Green said. "I never touched him; I couldn't have interfered with him if I had tried."
"If the goalie was being interfered with, how could he have dived to try to save the ball?" asked Cruyff.
Kibritjian said that although Green did not make contact with Birkenmeier, he interfered with him by standing directly in front and almost on top of him.
"Unbelievable," Bradley said.
"The referre's gutless," said Irwin, who played brilliantly all day. It's terrible for him to take a game away from us like that. The fans were great, the day was great and the team was great. And he takes it all away."
Kibritjian certainly was not solely responsible for the final outcome. Five minutes after his goal was called back, Cruyff seemed to have another. He stripped the ball cleanly from Carlos Alberto and went in alone on Birkenmeier.
Faking right before dribbling left, Cruyff left the goalie helpless behind him.Six yards from the net he sent a low shot toward the left corner. But Durgan came flying through the air to knock the ball away, inches from the line while piling into the goal post. He was stunned for a couple of minutes. "He made a great play," Cruyff said. "I thought I had the goal."
Five minutes later, the Dips scored their only goal. Birkenmeier had tripped Green in the penalty box and Kibritjian, in his one moment of benevolence toward the home team, awarded a penalty kick.
Iarusci took the kick and smashed a high shot the right-hand corner for a 1-0 lead. That margin held up until halftime. thanks to Irwin, who made a brilliant sliding kick save on Chinaglia's 15-yard shot at the 40-minute mark.
But by halftime it was apparent that the Dips, already missing Juan Jose Lozano, red carded a week ago in Atlanta, were going to have to play the rest of the way without Cruyff, who had a pulled thigh muscle and was half-carried off the field at intermission by trainer Steve Hornor.
Cruyff probably will be out a week to 10 days with the injury, according to the Dips, so a red-card suspension becomes moot.
Cruyff was replaced for the start of the second half by Gary Darrell. With Cruyff, the Dips had been a brilliant, creative team, in control of the play. Without him, the game became a doglight, filled with fouls and near-fights.
Chinaglia brought the Cosmos even. He took a high pass from Angelo DiBernardo, 10 yards from the net, and headed the ball past Irwin, who had no chance. That tied the game at 55:41. It was the first and only time all day Chinaglia had control of the ball in the box as Nick Mijatovic did a brilliant job defending against him.
Both teams had chances to go ahead during the next 30 minutes, but the ball did not hit the net again until Green's nongoal. League Commissioner Phil Woosnam, who watched the game fro m Sonny Werblin's box, said he saw contact between Mokgojoa and Durgan on the play but would not comment on the call.
After the nongoal and the donnybrook, the field finally was cleared and regulation ended with the score still 1-1. In the 15 minutes of overtime, the Dips, most notably Mokgojoa, had several excellent oportunities. But each time Birkenmeier, today's game's top player, came up with the save, even after colliding with Mokgojoa early in overtime and almost having to retire because of a badly bruised shoulder.
"He played a great game," Bradley said. "You have to give him credit. Several times in overtime I thought Kenny had him beat. He just made the big plays."
Both goalies made big plays in the shootout, the third consecutive time these teams have played to a shootout.
First, Irwin forced Alberto to shoot wide right. But Birkenmeier smothered Tommy O'Hara's shot. In the second round, Julius Cesar Romero did nt get his shot in five seconds but Birkenmeier smothered Sonny Askew's shot.
The deadlock continued through the third round as Irwin slid out to stop Adranik Eskandarian head on. Mercantonio finally beat Birkenmeier with a left-footed kick only to have the ball hit the post and bounce away.
In the fourth round, neither Mark Liveric, a former Diplomat, nor Green came close. So it came down to the final round, just as both shootouts had a year ago, the one here going nine rounds, the one in New Jersey ending in the fifth round.
For the Cosmos, Bogicevic finally solved Irwin's defense, getting his shot off just as the goalie dived toward him and cleanly beating him to his left. That left it up to Iarusci, a former Cosmo, to send the shootout into an overtime sixth round.
He almost succeeded. Faking Birkenmeier right, he went left, leaving the goalie sprawled on the ground. But just as he was about to pop the ball into the net, Birkenmeier reached out with his left hand as far as he could and flicked away the ball.
The game was over. For the fifth straight time, the Diplomats (3-7) had lost to the Cosmos (8-2).
"I thought I had him beat, thought I was by him," Iarusci. "He just came back from nowhere. It was a great play.
"What can you say," he added. "We played great. We lost. We shouldn't have lost.We were the better team."
The final straw for the frustrated Diplomats did not come until 30 minutes after the game had ended, when Kibritjian sent a note to Bradley informing him he had red carded Marcantonio for the towel throwing.
Bradley stared at the note in disbelief. Cruyff, learning of it, laughed. Pointing across the locker room at Woodsnam, he said, "Go ask him where he gets these guys. All he's doing is ruining the game with these incompetents."
Danzansky shook his head and said, "He just twisted the knife in a little deeper."
But the knife needed no twisting. For the Diplomats, the pain already was bad enough.