The Moment. It has happened more than 500 times in his 17 years as a professional soccer player. Yet, in the instant after he sees one of his shots pass the goalkeeper and go into the net, Giorgio Chinaglia is transformed.

Suddenly, he is no longer the millionaire superstar. The father of three becomes a little boy again. His eyes light up as bright as discostrobes. His smile is electric. He pumps his arms, shakes his fists and leaps into the arms of the closest available teammate.

"The feeling of scoring a goal," Chinaglia says, his eyes wide again, "it is like no other feeling in the world. Each one is special to me. The thrill lives with me long after the goal. Each time. What a moment it is."

As he spoke, Chinaglia seemed to be picturing a goal in his mind. "Yes, it's true, I am," he said. "Always, I see myself scoring goals. That is when I am happiest."

At 33, Giorgio Chinaglia is a very happy man.

The morning was humid, the sky gray and ugly. The blue Toyota Celica lurched through the New Jersey rush hour toward the Lincoln Tunnel, stopping frequently as the traffic increased.

The driver looked like the rest of those struggling into New York City. He leaned forward to turn up the air conditioning, then cast a disgusted look at the sea of cars in front of him.

"Almost 10 o'clock," he muttered. "Why are there so many cars?"

This is Giorgio Chinaglia, businessman. In the back seat are papers he must deal with when he reaches his office. He is late for a meeting. But also in the back seat is a backgammon board. Chinaglia learned the game from teammates this season. As he talks, Chinaglia's face alternately darkens and lights up depending on the subject.

He is remembering now, thinking about the boos that have rained down on him in Giants Stadium the last three seasons. And he is thinking of last Saturday when those who have booed him for so long stood up and chanted, "Gior-gio, Gior-gio," after he scored three goals to lead the Cosmos past the Los Angeles Aztecs and into the Soccer Bowl Sunday against Fort Lauderdale at RFK Stadium.

"Aaaah," said Chinaglia, letting out a long sigh of satisfaction. "That sounded so nice to me. It was such a long time in coming. I had felt some bitterness in the past. Saturday, I felt so good."

Chinaglia is hot now, raging hot. In six regulation playoff games plus one 30-minute minigame he has scored 16 goals, including seven in one game. He already holds most of the NASL scoring records and now, he is lengthening the list.

He is trying to be modest when he talks about the goals. He talks about being lucky, he talks about the work his teammates have done helping to set him up. But finally he cannot hold it in any longer.

"The goals, amazing eh?" he said, looking away from the traffic with a huge grin. "I'm going well now, I'm hot. But I've worked, you know. It doesn't just happen, you know. I have worked harder this year than ever before in my life.

"Last year after we did not win the Soccer Bowl people kept asking me when I would quit playing soccer. Now they don't ask me that anymore. I have proven I can still play the game. I realized last year that soon I won't be able to play anymore. I wanted to be in the best shape possible. I have worked and worked and worked."

The work has paid off. During the regular season Chinaglia scored 33 goals and won his third scoring title in five seasons. That was a mere prelude to the playoffs. His seven goals in a first-round game against the Tulsa Roughnecks is believed to be the most prolific outburst in a professional game in this century. The Cosmos have scored 22 goals in playoff competition; Chinaglia has 16 and has assisted on three others.

"He has the ability to kill at just the right moment," said Aztec Coach Rinus Michels after the 3-1 loss which eliminated his team Saturday. "He is so clever, so shrewd. He outthinks other players."

Today, the praise for Chinaglia is pouring in. The league is delighted the Cosmos are the opposition for the Strikers in the Soccer Bowl largely because of Chinaglia's presence. He is handsome, charismatic and articulate. bItalian-born but a naturalized American citizen with an American wife, he speaks English with only a slight trace of an accent.

He is charming and has a sense of humor. He is also one of the most resented men in soccer. Some former coaches and teammates won't even enter into a discussion about him.

"I don't even talk about people like him," said a former teammate. "He's bad news."

Good news, bad news, Chinaglia is always news. He once told an American reporter that in Rome "they put Chinaglia on Page 1 and the pope on Page 3."

Certainly, he is arrogant. But in the five seasons he has played soccer for the Cosmos he has had as much to do with the sport's growth in popularity as anyone, with the exception of Pele.

"I know there are those that don't like me," he said. "That cannot be helped. I must be myself and I must do the things that make me happy and I think are right. That will not always make other people happy. But it is the way I am. It is the way I have always been. It is too late to change now."

The man who holds the NASL record for goals (127 regular season, 36 playoff) was not recruited by the league the way Pele, Johan Cruyff and Franz Beckenbauer were. In fact, his coming to the NASL was more an accident than anything else.

"It started in 1975," Chinaglia said. "My wife wanted to go home (to New Jersey) to live.We came over here and I bought a house in Englewood. I wasn't sure what I was going to do about my soccer. I thought maybe I would commute.

"While we were there I went to the first game Pele played in for the Cosmos and I started talking to Clive Toye (then Cosmos general manager) and he asked me if I might be interested in playing for the Cosmos. I said I would."

That began a series of complicated negotiations with Lazio, the Italian team Chinaglia had been playing for since 1969. Lazio was not eager to lose its leading scorer for six straight years. In the end though, it had little choice. Chinaglia issued an ultimatum: sell him to the Cosmos or he would retire. He was sold to the Cosmos in the spring of 1976.

Immediately, he proved he could score. That first season he had 19 goals in 19 games and led the league in scoring. He also alienated a number of teammates with his brash demeanor and did not get along at all with Gordon Bradley, then the Cosmos coach.

By 1977 Chinaglia was established as a power within the Cosmos organization. In fact, in many ways he was -- and is -- bigger than the Cosmos organization. He is very close to Steve Ross, chairman of the board of Warner Communications -- the corporation that owns the Cosmos. Reportedly, Chinaglia sits in on Warner board meetings. He has an office and secretary right across the hall from the Cosmos office. No one will say so publicly, but it was Chinaglia who insisted Bradley be removed as coach in 1977. It was also Chinaglia who insisted the new coach be Eddie Firmani. And it was Chinaglia, two years later, who reportedly engineered Firmani's removal after his relationship with Firmani soured.

"Steve Ross runs Warner and Giorgio runs the Cosmos," said a former Cosmos front office employee. Translation: if a coach wants to succeed with the Cosmos, he had better get along with Chinaglia.

This year's coach, Hennes Weisweiler, has done that. From the beginning he has praised Chinaglia publicly, gone out of his way to talk about his all-around play, not just his goal scoring, and told people the Chinaglia has helped him immensely in adapting to his new surroundings.

"Giorgio has helped me communicate with the younger players," said Weisweiler, 60. "He has been my connection with the rest of the team."

And more likely, his lifeline with the Warner board and Ross, a group known for firing people almost as fast as it hires them.

"People criticize Giorgio all the time because they are jealous of him. Sure he's arrogant and cocky. Sure, he's flamboyant, wearing that robe in the locker room and all that.

"But more than anything else, Giorgio is a competitor. Look at his record. His teams win and he scores goals when it counts most. People always say he's just a goal scorer. Hey, what's the game about, not scoring goals?

"The guy is a winner, period. If we had someone like him we would be a lot better team, I guarantee you that."

The speaker is Washington Diplomat defender Robert Iarusci, who played with Chinaglia in New York admits, frankly, that he idolizes the man. Both are Italians who grew up elsewhere -- Chinaglia in Wales where his father ran a restaurant and Iarusci in Toronto. Both are intense competitors.

"Giorgio on the soccer field is like Giorgio the person," Iarusci said. He's always thinking ahead. He's always playing the angles. He calculates everything he does, in life and in soccer."

Chinaglia's bravado often hides the intensity Iarusci admires so much. But when he talks about the game and his role in making it what it has become in this country, the intensity is obvious.

"I never dreamed when I came here that the game would become as big as it has this fast," he said. "But too often people forget that it still has not made it here. There is still so much to be done. Soccer players should never turn down interviews or clinics.

"We have to work with the kids, they're what matter. Sure, we need more coaches, but trying to teach these American coaches is impossible.None of them want to listen. They think they know it all.In Europe, the best coaches go to clinics all the time. Here they don't think they need them.

"When I stop playing, I want to work to make soccer bigger in this country. I want to stay with the Cosmos and work camps. It is very important to me."

How serious is Chinaglia? Several weeks ago after watching a 30-minute soccer program on Ted Turner's new cable network, he called Atlanta at 2 a.m. to thank the network for giving soccer exposure.

Even though soccer's future is important to Chinaglia, he remains obsessed with the present. With winning games. With scoring goals.

"You mustn't be afraid to set goals for yourself," he said. "I wanted badly to win back the scoring title this year and to win the Soccer Bowl. We all wanted to prove that when we lost last year it was a fluke.

"This has been my most satisfying season. The fans booing I think had become a habit. That is the way of New York, though. These are the most knowledgeable fans anywhere, in any sport. They are also the toughest. One bad pass and they boo. They demand perfection. If you can't take that kind of pressure, though, you shouldn't be playing.

"I will never play anywhere but New York. That is the only place for me.

Sure, it is a challenge, it's very hard place to please people. But when you do your job, when you succeed, aaah, the feeling. It is unbelievable."

The little boy look comes back. It has been said Chinaglia can remember every one of his goals. At least half of them appear to be dancing through his brain as he speaks. "I am not ready to retire yet," he continued, "for one reason. The goals are too much fun. I cannot give them up yet."

With that, the little boy look was gone. He was late for a board meeting.