Photo courtesy of
Photo courtesy of 

There seems to be little disagreement (famous last words) among fans of the original NASL that the greatest game in that league’s 17 seasons was the second leg of the 1979 semifinal between the New York Cosmos and the Vancouver Whitecaps.

That this bitter rivalry produced a heated battle was no surprise. There had been bad blood between the Cosmos and the Whitecaps throughout the 1979 season, including a fight that had seen four players sent off, and it continued into the first game of their semifinal series, a 2-0 victory for Vancouver at Empire Stadium in Vancouver.

The spark that set off the trouble in that game was the second Vancouver goal, on a breakaway by Trevor Whymark. The Cosmos felt that the goal should have been disallowed for offside. Carlos Alberto led the Cosmos’ futile protest against the goal, and the atmosphere wasn’t helped any when Andranik Eskandarian was red carded after taking a run at a Vancouver player. Then, in the tunnel leading to the locker rooms after the game, Carlos Alberto got into an altercation with an official that, according to the league reports, included spitting on him.

The second leg was three days later, on Saturday, Sept. 1, 1979, at the Cosmos’ home, East Rutherford, N.J. In between, the Cosmos learned that they would have to play it without Eskandarian, suspended for a game because of his red card, or Carlos Alberto, suspended for the rest of the playoffs because of the tunnel incident. The absence of Carlos Alberto forced the Cosmos make a move that may have pleased the player involved, when Franz Beckenbauer was moved from midfield to sweeper. Beckenbauer was the most famous sweeper in the history of soccer, but ever since the arrival of Carlos Alberto in July 1977, Beckenbauer had been playing in midfield for the Cosmos, somewhat unhappily.

Most of the 44,109 fans at Giants Stadium for the second leg were livid about the league rulings, and so were the Cosmos. Team president Rafael de la Sierra remarked caustically the day before the game: “So we’ll lose. Isn’t that what the commissioner wants?”

The Cosmos took a 2-1 lead into the locker room at halftime of the second leg, with Giorgio Chinaglia having scored both of their goals, after passes from Vladislav Bogicevic and Seninho. The Whitecaps had tied the game after Chinaglia’s first goal, and they tied it again in the second half, with Whymark scoring on a sharp header.

Since Vancouver had won the first leg, if the Whitecaps also won this second leg, the series would be over. If the Cosmos won the second leg, that would tie the series at one game apiece, and a 30-minute “mini-game” would be played to decide the series. After Whymark’s goal, the second leg ended in a 2-2 tie, and NASL rules did not permit ties. There were no further goals during 15 minutes of sudden-death overtime, although Kevin Hector of the Whitecaps did force Giants Stadium to hold its breath by hitting the far post with a long-range shot. A shootout broke the tie, however, giving the victory to the Cosmos and forcing the mini-game.

The second-leg game had been 105 minutes of end-to-end action, and the mini-game was 30 minutes more of the same, but with no scoring. Carl Valentine came very close for Vancouver with a shot that ricocheted down after hitting the crossbar but was ruled not to have crossed the goal line. Mark Liveric thought he had won the game for the Cosmos with a goal in the final minute, but it was disallowed for a foul, so a second shootout was needed to decide which of the two exhausted teams would advance.

Vancouver won the shootout, and the Cosmos’ season was ended. A week later, on the same Giants Stadium field, the Whitecaps won the NASL title by beating the Tampa Bay Rowdies, 2-1. Many fans could be forgiven for considering the titanic struggle between the Whitecaps and Cosmos the week before to have been the “real” final.

A version of this article was originally posted on Roger’s Big Soccer blog in February 2011.



This article has 2 comments

  1. Roger, thank you for writing this article. I was privileged to be one of the linesmen on this historic match, and it was all you say it was. So much excitement and twists and turns and seemed to go on for ever! A day I’ll never forget.

  2. Pingback: Canadian Blaster: NASL 1979- Semifinal-Vancouver Whitecaps @ New York Cosmos: Overtime | The Daily Times

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.