The Cosmos Invitational, also known as the Soccer Bowl, will finally have a matchup Saturday that the North American Soccer League is happy with. The Cosmos are playing the Chicago Sting, which probably has the best chance of any team in the league to beat the haughty New Yorkers.
While the talk leading up to Saturday's 8 p.m. kickoff at chilly Exhibition Stadium has been of the league's shrinkage from 21 to 16 teams, realists believe this is actually a one-team league. This will be the Cosmos' fourth Soccer Bowl appearance in five years. Last year, they won the league-championship game, 3-0, over the Fort Lauderdale Strikers in a onesided contest at RFK Stadium.
That should not happen Saturday. The Sting beat the Cosmos in both meetings this season and is 6-1 against them lifetime. They have never previously met the Cosmos in the playoffs because, historically, Chicago has lost in the early rounds while the Cosmos breezed through.
"They are the kind of team that gives us trouble because they have so many different players who can score," said Cosmos goalie Hubert Birkenmeier, burned for eight goals by the Sting this season. "They still have the big star, but there are five other dangerous players."
The big star for Chicago is Karl-Heinz Granitza, the Sting's answer to Giorgio Chinaglia in ability and brashness. Granitza has already predicted that the Sting will win, 5-2, and he will score three goals to Chinaglia's two.
The Sting was the second-best team in the league during the regular season, matching the Cosmos' 23-9 record and finishing only five points behind them overall. The Cosmos got here with an easy two-game semifinal sweep of Fort Lauderdale.
Chicago struggled to reach the final. The Sting needed a shootout Monday to eliminate San Diego. But no one in its organization is complaining; the game drew more than 39,000 fans to Comiskey Park and the local newspapers finally jumped on the soccer bandwagon, hungry for a winner in a town without a champion since the 1963 Bears.
To achieve the NASL title, the Sting will have to get superb play from the midfield, which is built around the graceful Arno Steffenhagen. It will also need top work from 32-year-old German goalie Dieter Ferner, who joined the team in June and has played well.
The Cosmos, as always, will count on Chinaglia, midfield general Vladislav Bogicevic, defender Wim Rijsbergen and goalie Birkenmeier, to lead the way. The Sting has had success against the Cosmos in the past because defender Frantz Mathieu has done better slowing Chinaglia than the Cosmos' defense has done against the more versatile Granitza, whose left-footed kick may be the toughest in the game.