The Minnesota Kicks played in the North American Soccer League from 1976 until 1981, drawing an average of 24,000 fans per game to Met Stadium in Bloomington. Professional soccer was new to Minnesota; many fans came largely for the tailgating and Frisbee-tossing in the big parking lot surrounding the stadium at Cedar Avenue and I-494. The Minneapolis Tribune was new to soccer as well, as evidenced by the misspelling of Charlie George’s first name and errant references to players in the “crease” in the story published the next morning.
The star-studded Cosmos of New York were heavily favored to beat the Kicks in the second round of the playoffs in 1978. I passed up the chance for a free ticket that night. It was hot and humid, and, frankly, I didn’t have the heart to watch Minnesota lose again to Chinaglia & Co. I missed the high point of the season. The low point came two nights later, when the Cosmos recovered to crush the Kicks 4-0 in game two in Giants Stadium, and then advanced with a 1-0 shootout win in the minigame that followed.
Kicks overwhelm Cosmos 9-2
Willey drills five; scoring records fall
By Bruce Brothers
The Minnesota Kicks destroyed the defending champion Cosmos 9-2 Monday night at Metropolitan Stadium, riding the five-goal gunnery of Alan Willey to triumph in the first of a two-game NASL play-off series.
“They just overpowered us,” said Cosmos Coach Eddie Firmani.
Numerous records fell as the Kicks vented their 1978 scoring frustrations before a delighted gathering of 45,863, whose spirits remained undampened by a thundershower in the final minutes of the one-sided match.
The victory sends the Kicks to Giants Stadium, the Cosmos’ home in East Rutherford, N.J., with the upper hand for Wednesday’s second game. Two victories are needed to advance in the play-offs. Should the Cosmos win tomorrow, an overtime “mini-game” will follow to decide which team will go on to the conference championship against either Vancouver or Portland.
“After tonight’s performance,” Willey said, “there is no way we can get beat Wednesday.”
Willey’s five goals set an NASL play-off record, while the nine Kicks’ goals was a playoff record as well as the team’s three-year high. And Charley George, who scored with 52 seconds gone in the game, got a play-off record for the fastest goal.
|Alan Willey (9) charged toward his record fifth goal while Guiseppe Wilson (23) and Santiago Formosa of the Cosmos looked on. Chico Hamilton of the Kicks trailed the play. (Staff photo by Darlene Pfister)|
“I knew the chances would come,” Willey said, “because they did in the first game (a 4-2 Cosmos victory) and we didn’t put them away. We put them away tonight. There is nothing we can do wrong now. We’ve been threatening to score a bunch against somebody, but I didn’t think it’d be the Cosmos. It feels good, especially against the Cosmos, because they’re the team to beat.”
From the first minute the Cosmos were struggling. Tony Want’s crossing pass to George found the Minnesota striker and Cosmos goalie going high for the ball in the crease. Yasin crumbled to the turf after their collision and the ball bounced off George’s body and into the net. Not only Yasin’s pride was hurt. He had to leave the game with a slight concussion.
The Kicks’ outlook got even brighter 17 minutes later when Cosmos Captain Werner Roth tried to clear a corner kick off the foot of Chico Hamilton. Roth drilled the ball behind a startled Jack Brand, the Cosmos’ backup goalkeeper.
The own goal was especially cheering to Kicks’ goalkeeper Tino Lettieri, who has been victimized by a couple of them this season. “That second took a bit of tension off our minds,” Lettieri said. “Scoring two goals is good, the confidence builds and you just want to score more.”
Willey’s first goal at 29:28 made it 3-0 at half time, but the Cosmos came back on Giorgio Chinaglia’s drive past Lettieri three minutes into the second half. The Kicks needed just five minutes to retaliate, however, thanks to some sloppy defensive work in front of the Cosmos goal.
George was alone in the crease and Roth found himself confronted on the other side by two other Kicks. George slid the ball of Roth’s foot to Ace Ntsoelengoe, who put it away for a 4-1 score.
Ntsoelengoe, who suffered a cut hand but said it isn’t bad, said the Cosmos do not seem to play as well when they have to come from behind. “They are one team,” he said, “that when you get two or three goals on them, they go down.”
“When we scored that fourth goal,” George said, “that did it.”
Goals came hot and heavy after that, keeping the big crowd in a happy frame of mind despite the 90-degree heat. Willey got three in a row, at 62:28, 69:05 and at 77:27. The Cosmos finally scored again when Gary Etherington booted in a shot with 6 ½ minutes remaining, but Willey drilled another one minute later and Chico Hamilton added the ninth in the final minute.
The nine goals was the most ever yielded by the Cosmos, who also had a seven-game play-off winning streak ended by the onslaught.
“I thought we just played badly,” said Firmani.
Willey pronounced the game his best ever. “I’ve had nothing as good as that,” he said. Said George: “They’ll be ready Wednesday, but this game should do a lot for us. If it doesn’t I don’t know what will.”
“What can you say, it was unbelievable,” Kicks Coach Freddie Goodwin said. “Bearing in mind the occasion, what was needed and the opposition, it was an outstanding performance. Now, on Wednesday, we’ve got to go out and play the same way.”
Quick Kicks: Dennis Tueart of the Cosmos collided with Lettieri early in the game and left later with a bruised thigh … George got a knock on his injured foot, but said after the game that the foot is OK … The Kicks outshot the Cosmos 31-12. Chinaglia, the league scoring champion with 34 goals during the season and two more in the play-offs, had six of the losers’ shots. Willey had 10 shots … Lettieri got an assist on Willey’s final goal, throwing the ball to Hamilton, who brought it down and crossed to Willey in front … Hamilton had three assists in addition to his goal … Rookie Alex Rosul, the Kicks’ first-round draft choice this year, got an assist on Willey’s fourth goal, his first-ever in the NASL.