This has been an ironic weekend for the North American Soccer League. The league had the chance to revel in a superb Soccer Bowl match, only to wake up the next morning and face the reality of losing five of its 21 teams.
Three teams folded today: Washington, Atlanta and California. Two, Dallas and Calgary, merged with other clubs. Dallas, as previously announced, was taken over by the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Calgary by the Edmonton Drillers.
The latter development was a surprise, a last minute move by Calgary owner Nelson Skalbania. Facing his team's termination today, Skalbania persuaded his good friend Peter Pocklington to purchase the club. Although Pocklington talked of the deal as a way to strengthen both franchises, there was speculation that the move was designed to give Skalbania time to find local buyers to purchase the team from him for much more money.
The league meeting today was an anticlimax, a wrapping up of events that had been set in motion last week. The only new business today came when four cities, New York, Chicago, Montreal and Seattle, applied to host Soccer Bowl next year. A site will be chosen at league meetings next month.
Most of the talk today was of Saturday's championship game, the first Soccer Bowl decided in a shootout, Chicago beating the Cosmos, 1-0, by winning the shootout, 2-1.
The victory for the Sting, the first championship for a Chicago team since 1963, left almost everyone except the Cosmos aglow, not only because the mighty Cosmos had fallen but because the game was a competitive and artistic success.
The weather, which had everyone scared all week, was no problem, the game being played on a slightly chilly night. The attendance was 36,971, a figure that had officials smiling because there had been concern that in a city where the local team had been abysmal all season, few would buy tickets.
And, there was the specter of the Sting, expected to be given a ticker tape parade in Chicago, finally getting over the hump after seven years of struggle. The city is now the favorite to host next year's Soccer Bowl, the league wanting to ride the crest as long as it can.
On the Cosmos' side, as always happens when this team fails to win the championship, there was Yankee-like turmoil. Superstar Giorgio Chinaglia, after an afternoon run-in with a fan in downtown Toronto, had angry words with Coach Hennes Weisweiller after the game.
Reportedly, Weisweiller will announce his resignation this week, citing health reasons. His departure, regardless of whether the Cosmos won the title, has been considered inevitable since a midseason losing streak when players accused him of losing control of the team.
There are also reports that Warner Communications, the team's owner, is considering getting out of soccer within the next two years, tired of a corporate toy that, although visible and a powerful tool overseas, has become more expensive each year.
But those are problems for the future. Today, everyone in the NASL, from Commissioner Phil Woosnam down, was breathing a heavy sigh at having come through a turbulent year to finish with a fine game. The tension and the emotion of the Soccer Bowl showcased the league at its best after months of major problems.
"I hope this is good for the league," Chinaglia said. "If it is, then it is not so bad for the Cosmos to lose."
"We're going to get there someday," Woosnam said. "The only question has been, would we blow our heads off first. I think now, having come through all this, we won't. We've survived. Now, we can work towards flourishing."