Team America, long thought of as little more than a little-chance experiment of the North American Soccer League, took a big step toward credibility last night with a 2-1 shootout victory over the Cosmos before 31,112 at RFK Stadium.

Team America played the Soccer Bowl champions to a 1-1 regulation tie, and neither team could score in the two sudden-death overtime periods. But Team America got goals in the shootout from Boris Bandov and Perry Van Der Beck and four good saves from goalkeeper Paul Hammond.

Its fourth straight win lifted Team America into first place in the Southern Division with a 7-4 record and 45 points.

The Cosmos, who routed European champion Hamburg S.V. on Wednesday night, 7-2, fell to 7-4 and are in second place in the Eastern Division with 63 points.

"We're not the laughing stock of the league anymore," said Team America midfielder Bandov, who spent the last four years with the Cosmos. "We definitely earned the Cosmos' respect. With a little luck, our record could be even better."

Team America Coach Alkis Panagoulias said the win over the Cosmos, winners of four Soccer Bowls in the last six years, would finally give American soccer the recognition it deserves.

"I have said all along America has good players. Tonight we proved it," said Panagoulias. "Now I am getting players calling me, asking to join Team America. Before, I had to beg them to play for their country."

Team America took a 1-0 lead at 46:52 on an "own goal" by Cosmos sweeper Franz Beckenbauer. After taking a 60-yard punt from Hammond, Beckenbauer attempted to play the ball back to goalkeeper David Brcic. But the goalie came out too far to meet the ball and it sailed over his head into the goal.

"I thought the ball was going through. I didn't think Franz was going to get it," said Brcic. "I came out and slipped, and by that time he had volleyed it back to me."

Beckenbauer, who cannot remember ever scoring on his own goal before, cursed his mistake, but was nonetheless impressed by Team America's play.

"They are not bad," said Beckenbauer, generally considered one of the top players in the world. "Some players have more skill, but the Americans have the desire."

The Cosmos' midfield overwhelmed Team America in the second half, getting off 18 shots and pulling its entire team up to midfield. They finally tied the score at 69:53 when Roberto Cabanas sent a half-volley from the left side into the right corner of the goal.

Cosmos forward Giorgio Chinaglia, who earned an assist on the goal with a soft head pass, got off seven shots in the game but was largely neutralized by Team America defender Jeff Durgan, who had spent the last three years with the Cosmos.

"Jeff knows me very well; he knows my tactics," said Chinaglia, whose only dangerous shot was a free kick at 80:45 which banged off the cross bar. "In the first half I tried to play away and draw him out of the box, but he didn't come out. Alkis knew what I wanted to do."

The Cosmos got a goal from Vladislav Bogicevic on their first shootout attempt, but were shut out by Hammond on their four subsequent shots. Bandov and Van Der Beck connected on Team America's first two shots, but goalkeeper Hubert Birkenmeier, who entered the game with one minute remaining in the overtime, kept Alan Green and Tony Crescitelli from shooting within the alloted five seconds.

Team America came out slowly, lacking the aggressiveness on defense it had displayed over the last three games. The Cosmos' sharp passing attack kept Team America in its own end, and the visitors held a 9-5 first-half advantage in shots.

It was scoreless at the half, though, because the Cosmos were unable to capitalize on two open-net opportunities.

Team America failed to take advantage of the reckless play of Brcic, who has played in only four games this season. Brcic repeatedly committed himself too early and failed to hold his line on crosses.