That was the feeling among all the Washington Diplomats tonight. Finally, they beat the Cosmos. Finally, they beat them in a shootout after three straight losses during the last two seasons to them. Finally, they won a game on guts, not just ability.
It was Carmine Marcantonio who best summed up the feeling in the jubilant locker room.
"God," he said, "finally did justice."
Justice to the Diplomats was a 2-1 victory, the win coming as the result of a 4-2 margin in the shootout -- the fourth straight time these two teams had to go to the shootout to break a tie.
Justice was Juan Jose Lozano tying the ganme at 1-1 at 84:42 just 25 seconds after Giorgio Chinaglia had scored his 31st goal of the season on a penalty kick that the Dips thought never should have been called.
Justice was Washington Coach Gordon Bradley, removed from the Cosmos' job with the team in first place, finally beating his old team after five losses -- and doint it in front of 55,764 in Giants Stadium where the Cosmos were 14-0 this season.
It seemed almost coincidental that the win, which raised Washington's record to 15-15 for 141 points, clinched second place in the NASL National Conference East and a playoff spot. The Cosmos, Eastern winners, are 22-8 for 195 points and trial Seattle by 11 points in the race for best record in the conference.
"The law of averages finally caught up with them," said Bob Iarusci, one of many heroes for Washington. "We had lost three straight times to them in a shootout. We were due. When we tied the game I just said to myself, 'That's it, this is our night, we're going to do it.'"
The Dips, who were 0-3 in shootouts this season, had missed their last 12 shootout attempts in a row dating back to the season opener in Tampa Bay, before tonight.
This time they were virtually unstoppable. Tommy O'Hara and Alan Green beat Cosmos goalie Hubert Birkenmeier -- the hero of the Cosmos' 2-1 shootout win in Washington -- on the first two rounds. They were matched by Vladislav Bogicevic and Bruce Wilson, who beat Dragan Radovich, playing his first NASL shootout.
Then Iarusci, using the identical move to the left that Birkenmeier had foiled in Washington, made it 3-2, Washington with a left-footed chip. Wim Rijsbergen fired wide right for the Cosmos and Washington was in front. w
It stayed 3-2 in the fourth round. Johan Cruyff, taking his first shootout kick of the season, collided heavily with Birkenmeier -- who smothered the ball -- and had to be helped from the field. But he was up and talking -- naturally -- moments after the game, just having had the wind knocked out of him.
After Cruyff's miss, Larry Hulcer was wide left for the Cosmos and Bobby Stokes -- goalless all season -- came on with a chance for the clincher. He never flinched, chipping a right-footed shot past Birkenmeier to give his team the biggest win in the seven-year history of the franchise.
"We got everything we deserved tonight, finally," said Alan Green. "We played well, we had some tough moments and we finially did it. We finally didn't come close and lose. We finally wone one of these bloody things."
The Diplomats earned this win. They survived a typically bruising contest with the Cosmos that saw Thomas Rongen leave in the first half with a sprained ankle; Tommy O'Hara take five stitches next to his left eye at halftime, and Lozano hobble off with a calf contusion moments after scoring the tying goal.
And, they survived what appeared to be a horrifying version of deja vu when a questionable officiating call put the Cosmos in front, 1-0, after the teams had battled scoreless for 84 minutes.
Both goalies, Birkenmeier and Radovich, had played excellent games up until that moment. Ricky Davis, the Cosmos' American defender who has been injured much of the season, flashed into the box after tha ball with Nick Mijatovic in pursuit. The two collided on the left edge of the box and Davis went flying.
Referee George Courtney, who had given each team a silly yellow card in the first half after missing two easy calls, signified a penalty kick.
The Diplomats were ready to call a cop -- they thought, just as in Washington, they were being robbed by the referee.
"Harsh call," Bradley said. "It happens in their favor a lot, doesn't it?"
Harsh or not, Chinagila, the league's leading scorer, lined up the kick and beat Radovich to his left at 84:17.
"Right then," Bradley said, "I thought we were going to lose. What happened next shows what kind of a team this is."
All season long, this has been a team that fell behind on the road, folded its tent and went home. That was the reason for the 3-11 road record coming in here.
Off the ensuing kickoff Cryuff, who was physically abused by the Cosmos all night, dashed down the middle, drawing the defense to him. As he was being taken down, he slid the ball to O'Hara on the left side of the box. w
The unsinkable Scot took the pass and in one quick motion sent a perfect pass to Lozano, positioned right in front of Birkenmeier. Lozano took the pass on his head and slammed it past Birkenmeier on the goalie's right and it was 1-1 at 84:42.
That set up the overtime and that set up the shootout, which with these two teams seems almost inevitable.
"It almost seems silly to play the regulation game," Washington General Manager Andy Dolich said.
In the past, from Washington's point of view, it has been silly to play the shootout. Always, somehow, the Cosmos have emerged winners.
"I didn't want shootout," Bradley said. "When you have a player like Cruyff setting things up you don't want it to come down to shootout."
Like it or not, the Dips found themselves in the shootout again. But this time, things were different.
"They hadn't been taken to a shootout in here all season," Iarusci said. "You could see on their faces that they were down. When I went out to take my shot, Rijsbergen was out there and he told me that none of their guys wanted to take the shootout. They were that upset. I just knew that this time, with the law of averages, we had to win."
"We fought back," Bradley said. "We could have given up after the bad call but we didn't. We didn't let anything stop us tonight."
Davis saw it differently. He didn't see a team battling back from adversity. "It wasn't enough for them to come here and play well," he said. "They had to bicker and complain and shout. It wasn't necessary for them to play with their mouths."