If the bailiff will read the charges, please . . .
1. Team America can't score. It ought to be Team Tranquilizer. It puts you to sleep with defense, defense, de-nothing-but-fense. Team America hasn't scored a second-half goal off its own feet for the last 327 minutes and 26 seconds. It last scored in a second half on May 25. Only twice in 11 games has TA scored two goals in regulation time. It has been shut out four times in regulation.
2. Team America plays too rough. It leads the league in fouls. If Team A keeps this up, we'll have to change our national colors to black and blue. This violence, to quote the Tampa Tribune, is understandable as a mirror of malevolent American society.
3. Team America is too much Team Immigration. Only four of the 11 starters Friday night were native Americans, the same as started for the Cosmos. Once, the Cosmos had six U.S. citizens playing while TA had nine. "Team America is a fraud," the Los Angeles Times wrote.
4. Who says Team America is our national team? A national team is built quickly for a tournament. When we need a team for World Cup qualifying in 1985, Team America will be lucky if two or three guys make it. We have that in quotes from Ricky Davis of the Cosmos, who refused to play for Team America.
We have an embarrassment of riches from which to choose an indictment of Team America, which against all expectations is a first-place team showing signs of belonging there. When 31,112 customers came to the Cosmos/TA game, the average attendance rose to 20,525 (inflated by 50,000-odd for the Beach Boys, but there you go).
The point is, Team America is getting on pretty good for an outfit thrown together in about six minutes after a brainstorm struck Howard Samuels. He is the president of the North American Soccer League. He created Team America with the idea that U.S. citizens, playing together, would be a team Americans could love as their own.
Team America's mission, as all understand it, is to save the NASL from extinction.
That may be more than even a patriot can do, because U.S. sports fans have not taken pro soccer to their pocketbooks after almost 15 years of exposure to the game that drives the rest of the world bats. They use fences, moats and bayonets to keep Europeans off the fields. In the United States, they need bayonets to get people into the ballpark.
The problem with soccer here, if a baseball man might be so bold, is visible in all those little kids from the suburbs, boys and girls alike, who were at RFK the other night. Look at the shirts: McLean Soccer, Sterling All-Stars, Fairfax Cobras, Wheaton Bulldogs Select, Greenbelt, GORC, Montgomery Soccer.
In those shirts, everybody was 11 years old. A soccer crowd is odd: all the youngsters, with all their 40-ish parents, and practically no one in between and no one older. What happens to soccer kids at 17, 18, 23? They become baseball, football, basketball fans because they can identify with the established stars in those games while the NASL, with its rosters fluid and hard to spell, is a mystery.
So the "Sport of the '80s," as the NASL called itself before the '80s arrived and a dozen franchises were put to sleep, will always be a sport on the fringe of American consciousness.
That is not to say it wasn't an electrifying good time at the end Friday night when Team America defeated the proud Cosmos in a shootout. They'd played 105 minutes to a 1-1 tie. Maybe soccer buffs loved every second of those 105 minutes. I asked the man in the next chair to wake me if anything happened. You have to like your thrills small to fall for Team America, because they are masters of defense, which in soccer as in hockey means they're creating interruptions all the time.
It isn't a pretty sight, but, as Jeff Durgan is here to testify, it is the way to win.
Durgan is a star. If soccer were football, he'd be Joe Theismann. He's the Team America captain, a defender without fear and self-appointed missionary to sell soccer to reluctant customers. Three years a Cosmo, now 21, articulate and handsome, Durgan was asked after beating the Cosmos to respond to our bill of particulars.
1. No offense. "When Alkis Panagoulias (the coach) came to this country, he said we're going to build a defense first. Do not take goals. We defend first, then counterattack. It's been working for us. The only thing we lack, offensively, is the finishing touch. To score goals, you must know each other and we haven't been together long enough. But it will come, and when it does, we will be awesome."
2. Too rough. (And, in passing, the national-team issue.) "You can't say Italy won the World Cup without being physical. They hit everybody. Hard. We're not here to win the NASL. We're the national team, organized to represent this country in the World Cup. And we're going to win the World Cup. But if we don't hit, we don't have a chance."
3. Team Immigration. "These men are citizens, they've said the pledge of allegiance, they love this country. My grandmother was from Japan. She was put in the camps in Califoria during World War II. This country is made up of people who came from everywhere."
It was near midnight then, the locker room empty of players except for Durgan, who signed autographs for kid soccer players up from Tampa.
"It was a fun game tonight," Durgan said to the boys. "You guys have fun?"
Loudly, they said yes.
Saturday night games: Goals by Branko Segota and Brian Kidd beat San Diego, 2-0, in Fort Lauderdale. Strikers goalie Jan van Beveren needed to make only two saves for his team's first regular-season shutout in more than a year . . . Njego Pesa's first two goals this season helped Tulsa defeat visiting Chicago, 4-0, and move into first in the Southern Division . . . Mark Peterson scored three goals and Peter Ward two as Seattle beat visiting Montreal, 5-1 . . . Goalie Bill Irwin got his second shutout and Jan Goossens scored to beat Tampa Bay, 1-0, at Golden Bay.