Jim Brown dived, he jumped, he lunged. The Washington Diplomat goalkeeper hurled his body in front of every shot except one -- Francois van der Elst's disputed goal in the 65th minute that gave the Cosmos a 1-0 victory today.
The Cosmos' fifth consecutive victory broke the Diplomats' five-game winning streak and increased the Cosmos' first-place margin in the Eastern Division to 11 points over the second-place Dips (5-2).
The mighty NASL champion Cosmos (6-1) dominated play most of the afternoon before a crowd of 34,189, but were thwarted by excellent Washington defensive play and Brown's guile in the nets. But 20 minutes into the second half, van der Elst took a perfect thigh-high, give-and-go pass from Giorgio Chinaglia and slid the ball past Brown.
Brown jumped up and looked toward the officials for a hand-ball violation, as did the other Diplomats. None was forthcoming. Afterward, in the locker room, the Dips were furious.
"The ball hit van der Elst on the hip first, then he touched the ball with his hand after he ran past it," Brown said. "Two of their players even admitted it. His teammates saw it and 40,000 people in the stands saw it. But three people (the officials) didn't."
"We were cheated out of the game," Washington defender Peter Carr said. "Cheated out by a hand ball. The television cameras will show it too," said Carr, who held the Cosmos' leading scorer, Chinaglia, without a goal for the first time in the last 14 games at Giants Stadium.
"I'd rather lose 3-0, than 1-0 on a hand ball," Duncan Hill, the Dip general manager, said.
Diplomat Coach Ken Furphy went to the officials' dressing room after the game to discuss the controversial goal. "I told the ref: 'Look, that goal should not have been allowed,' and he told me to leave the room. It was clearly a hand ball. Both linesmen were completely biased."
An official NASL statement posted on the officials' dressing room door, signed by Phil Woosnam, the league commissioner, prohibits officials from talking to reporters after a game.
Chinaglia, who passed the ball to van der Elst, said his teammate's hand might have touched the ball, which would have nullified the goal. "It wasn't voluntary, but his hand might have touched the ball when he was in stride," Chinaglia said. "Some you win, some you lose. It's happened to us before."
Van der Elst demonstrated how the ball "hit my side" but not his hand.
Whether or not the ball hit his hand, van der Elst created the play beautifully on the other side of the midfield line. He passed to midfield mate Angelo DiBernardo, who returned the pass well inside the 35-yard line.
Streaking down the middle, van der Elst flipped a pass to Chinaglia, who hooked the ball right back to his teammate, who was 12 yards in front of the goal.
Van der Elst slid the ball past Brown, who was coming out to meet Chinaglia. Van der Elst had orchestrated several artistic plays before, but his teammates either blew the shots or were thwarted by Brown.
"The Washington goalkeeper was, oh, I can't explain how good," said van der Elst, who is from Belgium. "He made great, great saves all afternoon. He was the best of 22 players on the field today."
"Brown kept the score from being at least 3-0," Hennes Weisweiler, the Cosmos coach, said.
Brown was beaten one other time but Carr saved a goal by running into the goal mouth to boot away van der Elst's shot over a sliding Brown. Several longtime Cosmos observers said Carr did as fine a job marking Chinaglia as could be expected.
"I treated him with respect," Carr said. "He got away a couple of times. But that is to be expected playing here on his home field."
Washington's defense wasn't the problem though. The Cosmos' offense played keep away most of the game, not allowing the Dips any decent opportunities the entire first half and only one or two the second half.
Cosmos goalkeeper Hubert Birkenmeier had to make only two saves all day. His toughest challenge came when a Diplomat corner kick almost glanced into the net off Cosmos defender Bob Iarusci, who was standing in front.
In the 84th minute, the Dips missed three chances, the best when Don Nardiello's kick deflected off three bodies in front of the Cosmos goal, before rolling a foot wide of the far post.
"We just never got our running game going; we never got our legs," said Furphy, who substituted fresh Diplomats Paul Cannell and Nardiello for Heinz Wirtz and Ross Jenkins. Furphy, who has been pointing to this game all week, said he told his players late in Friday night's game to "take it easy and save some energy for Sunday."
But the Cosmos, who also played Friday, had no trouble running at the Dips the entire game. The Cosmos got off nine corner kicks to the Dips' three and outshot Washington, 18-13. Had it not been for Brown, the Diplomats would have trailed by at least two goals at halftime.
"We were disorganized in the first half," Furphy said. "We didn't deserve to be level (tied at zero) after the first half. But at halftime, after Jimmy had made those saves and they hadn't scored, I said: 'Maybe this is our day.'"
Still, the Dips didn't appear dejected in the locker room. "We learned something from this game," Carr said.
"I just did my job," Brown said, shrugging off his day's work. "We all did our jobs. We lost, but there's a rematch back at home on May 23. We didn't disgrace ourselves."