Chicago Sting vs. San Diego Sockers
NASL Playoff Semi-Finals, Game Three
September 21, 1981
North American Soccer League Programs
A huge Monday night crowd of 39,623 braved chilly September weather at Comiskey Park to cheer on the Chicago Sting in the decisive Game Three of the 1981 NASL playoff semi-finals. It was the largest home crowd in the Sting’s seven-year history. The New York Cosmos were already through to the final in the other bracket. They awaited the winner to decide Soccer Bowl ’81 at Toronto’s Exhibition Stadium five nights later.
The match had a good storyline The San Diego Sockers never quite could find their way into the Soccer Bowl. The past two seasons they’d lost in this same semi-final round. The Sting couldn’t quite solve the Sockers, who’d eliminated Chicago in the playoffs during those same two seasons. San Diego took Game One of the series 2-1 at Jack Murphy Stadium and held a 1-0 lead in Game Two at Comiskey, but allowed the Sting to rally with a 2-1 victory of their own and force this rubber match.
The game was scoreless through regulation and two sudden overtime periods, but a thriller nonetheless. Goalkeepers Dieter Ferner of Chicago and Volkmar Gross of San Diego were brilliant. Sting fans were elated during the second sudden death period when referee Toros Kibritjian awarded Chicago a penalty kick, but Gross made a diving save on Derek Spalding to keep the Sockers’ season alive.
At the end of the second overtime, the match came down to a Shootout, the NASL’s novel method of settling ties. One-by-one, six shooters from each side dribbled toward the goal from 35 yards out. They had five seconds to get a shot off. The Sockers went first and Juli Veee slotted a ball past Ferner for a 1-0 advantage. Pato Margetic evened it at 1-1 on the next kick. Polish star Kaz Deyna put the Sockers up 2-1 in the second round before the next four shooters failed to convert. Dave Huson tied it at 2-2 at the end of the fourth round. Neither team could score in the fifth.
The match game down to the sixth and final round of the shootout. Martin Donnelly toed the line for the Sockers and then bore down on Ferner. He missed. The crowd erupted…and then groaned when field officials ruled that Ferner left his line too early. Donnelly got a second chance. And missed again. Sting Head Coach Willy Roy sent out Frantz Mathieu to take the sixth kick. Mathieu had never participated in a shootout before. For the season, Mathieu had one goal in 31 matches. The Haitian sweeper charged in one Volkmar Gross, juked one way and cut back the other and put the red, white & blue NASL ball in the back of the net, touching off a wild celebration at Comiskey. The famed exploding scoreboard installed by the great Bill Veeck exploded. Fans rushed the field. Sting officials hustled champagne into the locker room. Sting owner Lee Stern was among the revelers:
“Anyone who tells Lee Stern 0-0 soccer is dull is going to get a punch in the nose from me,” Stern proclaimed amidst the locker room celebration, according to Tribune scribe Mike Conklin.
Five nights later, the Sting traveled to Toronto and felled the mighty Cosmos for the third time that season to win Soccer Bowl ’81. The Sting would win that match, once again, in the Shootout.
“Whew! Sting wins shootout for Soccer Bowl berth”, Mike Conklin, The Chicago Tribune, September 22, 1981