North American Soccer League Programs
This was a wild one at the Meadowlands in the summer of ’79. The 48,753 soccer fans witnessed one of the most violent, out of control matches in the history of the North American Soccer League. The occasion was a meeting between two of the league’s elite – the New York Cosmos (16-5) and the visiting Vancouver Whitecaps (13-8). The previous season the two clubs finished the regular season with identical 24-6 records, tying each other for the best record in the history of the league. The Cosmos won the Soccer Bowl championship in 1978, but it was the Whitecaps who had the best of the club’s head-to-head series, winning four of five contests dating back to Vancouver’s formation in 1974
The Cosmos seemed to come into the match in a nasty temperament. Just a week earlier, the club made headlines for fighting with their own custodial workers during a practice session at Giants Stadium. The match got physical from the get go, and the Whitecaps were willing adversaries. Referee Keith Styles blew 48 fouls in the match, including 29 on the Whitecaps. But at the first intermission, the only scoring action was an own goal by New York’s Carlos Alberto six minutes in, which gave the Whitecaps a 1-0 lead.
The scoring broke open early in the second half. Vancouver’s Kevin Hector beat Cosmos goalkeeper Erol Yasin in the 48th minute. New York halved the deficit in the 60th minute on a free kick that saw Franz Beckenbauer set up Dutch international Johan Neeskens. But the Whitecaps extended their lead to 3-1 less than three minutes later on a goal from English midfielder Ray Lewington. In the 70th minute Giorgio Chinaglia scored his 23rd goal of the season on a tap in from Dennis Tueart to make it 3-2.
The lid came off the match just over a minute later, when Vancouver’s Willie Johnston collided with New York’s Andranik Eskandarian in the Cosmos’ box. The two ended up trading punches on the artificial turf. Chinaglia rushed into fray and was clocked in the eye by the Whitecaps’ John Craven who had entered the match as a sub just a minute earlier. Both benches poured onto the field. The brawl appeared to catch Giants Stadium security off guard and continued for fourteen minutes, spilling from one end of the field to the other. Retired Cosmos legend Pele, of all people, charged the field looking to get a piece of Vancouver keeper Phil Parkes. A fan vaulted from the grandstand to go after referee Keith Styles. When order was finally restored, Vancouver’s Craven and Johnston were ejected, along with Chinaglia and Eskandarian for the Cosmos. The club’s finished the final 18 minutes of the match in a rare 9-on-9 format. The ‘Caps added an insurance goal for a final score of 4-2 – the Cosmos worst home defeat since moving to Giants Stadium in 1977.
Afterwards, Cosmos officials were apoplectic. Warner Communications exec Jay Emmett charged the official’s locker after the match. Executive Vice President Rafael de la Sierra painted conspiraced theories. The bad feelings would continue two months later when the Cosmos and the ‘Caps met in the NASL’s semi-final playoff series to determine a berth in Soccer Bowl ’79. In the first game of the series, Eskandarian got a red card with eight seconds remaining in the match and Carlos Alberto was banned for the remained of the season by NASL Commissioner Phil Woosnam for spitting at an official. The Cosmos threatened a lawsuit, while the ‘Caps focused on soccer and beat the Cosmos in a thrilling three-game set.
On September 8, 1979, the Whitecaps returned to Giants Stadium and defeated the Tampa Bay Rowdies 2-1 in Soccer Bowl ’79 to win their first and only NASL crown. The Cosmos, who once again had the league’s best regular season mark of 24-6, watched from home.