The Cosmos: world class performers at every position. Four first-team all-NASL selections -- midfielders Franz Beckenbauer and Vladislav Bogicevic, defender Carlos Alberto and forward Giorgio Chinaglia. Four other players named second team and honorable mention, giving them more all-stars than any other team in the league. For the second time in three years, the NASL rookie of the year -- defender Jeff Durgan.
The Cosmos: three National Conference crowns in the past four seasons and two Soccer Bowl trophies in the last three years. This season, they led the league in points (213), finished first in goals scored (87) and second in defense (allowed 41 goals) and established a slew of individual and team records.
The Cosmos: charismatic, confident and a prohibitive favorite to prevail over the Fort Lauderdale Strikers in the Soccer Bowl today at 12:30 p.m. at RFK Stadium (WJLA-TV-7).
Still, a split with the powerful Cosmos in two regular season contests and a gutsy playoff performance in turning back California, Edmonton and San Diego, all on the road, gives the Strikers more than enough reasons to think they can prevail in their first appearance in the Soccer Bowl.
"It's pleasing to be the underdog. No one expects us to win," said Striker defender Ken Fogarty, who must stop Chinaglia while playing with a sore right ankle. "Either we'll get thrashed or we'll do real well. Right now, there's a good feeling running through the team, like a pulse. We can go out and just play. We have nothing to lose."
The Striker "pulse" is coming at the right time. Injuries, dissension over some coaching moves by Corvan der Hart, contract problems and an inconsistent showing on the field most of the season (18-14) had Fort Lauderdale in a constant state of turmoil.
"At the end of this game, I'll know how Hannibal felt crossing the Alps," said Striker captain and midfielder Ray Hudson, the team's heart and soul. "We've had an up and down year. But we believe we can do it. If we can do certain jobs in one or two situations, we can give them a game. Our first priority is, of course, stopping Chinaglia."
That will be no easy task. The 6-foot-1, 180-pound striker had another eye-popping year, winning his third scoring title in five seasons. Chinaglia scored 16 goals in the playoffs, including seven in one game against Tulsa. Always a clutch player, Chinaglia scored the winning goal in each of his team's six playoff victories.
"I marked him the two games this year (Chinaglia scored two of his team's three goals in a 4-1 loss and 2-0 victory) and I thought I did fairly well," Fogarty said. "you have to mark him tight. You can't let him run loose and score three or four or even seven goals. That would never happen to our defense. You have to cut him off because he's 60 percent of the Cosmos offense."
Cutting off Chinaglia will hardly guarantee an easy afternoon for the Strikers. Beckenbauer (four goals, 10 assists) is playing his final league game before returning to West Germany to finish his career and undoubtedly will put on a soccer clinic.Fowards Julio Romero (14 goals, 19 assists) and Francois Van der Elst (six goals, five assists) and midfielders Bogicevic (five goals, 19 assists) and Angelo DiBernardo (seven goals, 13 assists) will give the sometimes-shaky Striker defense fits.
The back line of Alberto, selected as defender of the year for a third straight year, Eskandarian, Wim Rijsbergen, Durgan and the league's second leading goalkeeper, Hubert Birkenmeier (1.14 goals against average, 213 saves and nine shutouts), is not fooled often.
Another Cosmos' stalwart, midfielder Johan Neeskins (four goals, ten assists), was suspended following a disagreement with Coach Hennes Weisweiler during the Los Angeles playoff series and will not play.
"We know the Cosmos are a great team but we have some good players, too," said van der Hart, trying to sound optimistic. "I have told my players not to be afraid of them."
The Strikers will count on their money players, all-NASL Teofilo Cubillas, Gerd Mueller, Lex Schoenmaker and Hudson. The foursome accounted for 47 of the Strikers 60 regular season and 12 of the 13 playoff goals this year. Cubillas scored three goals in his team's early 4-1 triumph over the Cosmos this year.
Mueller nicknamed Der Bomber, is the one player the Cosmos are most concerned about. The short, thick striker, a long-time friend of Beckenbauer, is dangerous around the net and rarely has the ball taken from him once he controls a pass in the box.
"He's invisible for 89 minutes and then he hits it in the net," said the Cosmos' Durgan, who has marked the opposite team's top striker all year and probably will draw Mueller. "He has a lot more experience and a few more tricks but I have more desire and that can take you a long way."
The Strikers employed a 4-4-2 alignment much of the year but may opt for a three-forward lineup to apply more pressure on the Cosmos. If that's the case, winger Jeff Carriatore, the smallest player in the league at 5-2, 125 pounds, will start. The 22-year old former SIU-Edwardsville star is exceptionally quick and is a fine passer.
Many of the Strikers feel they have an advantage since they are playing on natural grass and their road record has been surprisingly good.
"We were diabolical at home and played real well on the road (9-10, including the three playoff victories)," Fogarty said. "We had our troubles but we've put them behind us and started to play well. Everything appears suited to us: the wide, grass field, our success on the road, we played well at RFK (beat the Dips, 2-1) and we've done well against the Cosmos this year.
"We have yet to play up to our potential," Fogarty said. "We have one excellent game in us and this seems like the time to play it."