The Cosmos and Los Angeles Aztecs were locked in a 1-1 tie Saturday and the crowd of 42,324 grew unruly when referee David Socha declined to award the Cosmos penalty kicks as first Franz Beckenbauser and then Giorgio Chinaglia were knocked down in the penalty area.
No doublt echoing the fans' voices, a reporter from a national soccer publication shouted, "They don't want the Cosmos to win."
The identity of "they" is a mystery, because the bigwigs of the North American Soccer League has to be as happy as the Cosmos' players when Chinaglia eventually completed a hat trick and carried his team into Sunday's Soccer Bowl at Rfk Stadium against the Fort Lauderdale Strikers.
The first-round demise of the Washington Diplomats, followed by network television's three-week absence from the playoff secene, left fears of yawning indifference and acres of empty seats should the Soccer Bowl wind up, for example, in a duel between Los Angeles and San Diego.
Now, however, the NASL can advertise the presence of this country's most charismatic team, the Cosmos, and the hottest individual performer in world soccer, Chinaglia.
Some of the Cosmos' stars are questionable for Soccer Bowl '80. Midfielder Johan Neeskens, miffed when he was pulled from a playoff game with Seattle, walked out on the club and has been suspended. Beckenbauer, possibly the finest midfielder in the world, suffered a pulled thigh muscle late in the first half Saturday, missed the second half and may not be able to play at RFK.
So long as Chinaglia comes, few fans will complain, and there is no doubt that the sensational striker, captian of the Cosmos, will be in the lineup.
"I just want to be in the groove for one more game," Chinaglia said after his three-goal performance. "This is three of the last four seasons we reach the Soccer Bowl and this time we want to prove last year was a fluke. We're still the best soccer team in the United States."
This season the 33-year-old Chinaglia led the NASL in goal scoring for the fourth time in five years, yet he often heard boos at Giants Stadium he was overlooked in the most valuable player voting and he was maligned, much like hockey's Phil Esposito, for being a garbage collector around the net.
In the last three weeks, however, nobody has said anything derogatory about Chinaglia. In seven playoff contests, one a 30-minute minigame, he has recorded 26 goals, including seven in one game with Tulsa. He has scored the winner in all five of the Cosmos' regulation-game victories.
"This is an answer to a lot of my criticis," Chinaglia said. "They can say whatever they want now. The facts are there. One thing they can do is take the goals away from me. And they can't take away the fact that we are in the Soccer Bowl again. Now there is only one step to go."
It was hard for Chinaglia not to smile as he said this, wearing his blue-and-white bathrobe and looking much like a victorious boxer. He is chuncky enough to pass for a fighter, but looks can be deceiving, as he proved on his third goal Saturday.
Chinaglia outfought Wim Suurbier, a talented Aztec defender, for a pass on the Cosmos' side of midfield. He then raced Suurbier side by side for 50 yards, dribbling the ball while the Dutchman vainly tried to cut him off. Suddenly, he gave Suurbier a slight push and drilled a left-footed shot past goalie Alfredo Anhielo.
"I was going to try to shoot with my right foot, but the guy was right behind me and so I kept it on my left," Chinaglia said. "I guess that goal proves I'm still in shape."
Because of his build, Chinaglia has long heard criticism of his condition and it was a factor in his being dropped from the Italian national team. He has become a naturalized U.S. citizen since leaving Lazio of Rome to join the Cosmos in 1976 and, ironically, he has scored more goals himself in this year's playoffs than the scorned defensive-minded Italian nationals have recorded in years.
The Cosmos' fans are glad Chinaglia has made new Jersey his home and they have let him know it with prolonged chants of "Gior-gi-o" that are kinder on the ears than past boos. But Chinaglia knows that soccer fans can be fickle.
"It's a switch from the beginning of the season, and of course it is very nice," Chinaglia said, "but there will be times when I won't be able to score and then we'll see."
He does not expect Sunday's Soccer Bowl to be one of those times, however.