"We catch Aztec different," said Pele 1,000 autographs and friendly smiles after his New York Cosmos took a 4-1 licking from the Los Angeles Aztecs before 32,165 enthusiastic soccer fans at the Coliseum Saturday afternoon. Pele was held scoreless.
This reporter, not accustomed to the soccer beat, enjoyed a very interesting reporting assignment starting with the press box menu — white wine and hot dogs. I can't remember having wine in the Coliseum hamburger and peanut room.
Anyone in the media profession who thinks soccer is a second-rate sport would have been enlightened by the action. It wasn't the wine that made the play look good. It was the skill of double scorer Steve David, the class of George Best, the aggressiveness of Charlie Cooke, the play-making of Ron Davies, the defensive ability of bald-headed Terry Mancini and Martin Cohen (who "marked" Pele) plus the acrobatic goaltending of Bob Rigby and the penalty shot marksmanship of Phil Beal that made the Aztec performance have a top-drawer look.
"It was good to see those goals," said Coach Terry Fisher of the Aztecs, happy his athletes had avenged a 5-2 defeat to this team in New York just a week ago.
Same team? That isn't exactly so. The Cosmo coach Gordon Bradley did not use Franz "The Kaiser" Beckenbauer who suffered a groin pull in a game in Vancouver this week.
"Beckenbauer could have played and wanted to, but I decided it was better to have him miss a game instead of aggravating things and losing him for three more weeks," explained Bradley.
David scores twice
Without their German star to steady their play, the Cosmos lacked the brilliance of their win in New York. Pele said the team missed Franz. But Aztec superstar Best remarked, "I don't think it would have made that much difference had he played. We were on our game today. This was our best team effort. We took it to 'em and everybody contributed."
David, the Trinidad native who has scored in 10 straight games and leads the North American Soccer League with 43 points, thrilled the Aztec rooters with two goals — one on a nifty assist by Best which Steve drilled past Cosmo goalie Shep Messing and the second on a header after a perfect kick, feed from Cooke who advanced down the side after taking a sharp advance from Best.
David's first success made the score 2-0 at the 30:27 mark shortly after Beal had tallied on a penalty kick which came when New York's Werner Roth tripped David in the penalty area. Beal caught Messing guessing left and drilled it into the right corner.
New York made it 2-1 at halftime when Cohen was called for getting his hands on a Pele effort. Capable Giorgio Chinaglia just made the corner of the net with his penalty kick despite a fine Rigby effort to deflect it.
The Aztecs dominated play in the second half when Mancini headed in a Cooke kick from the side for a 3-1 lead at 61:39 and David tallied his second goal at 71:23.
'I should have four a game'
"I'm not surprised I'm scoring two goals a game," said David, who came to the Aztecs from the Miami Toros and now has 20 goals and three assists. "I should have four goals a game. I'm not putting enough chances in. I'm disappointed in myself. But I'm happy to be in Los Angeles. I wasn't happy last year."
David suffered a nasty strawberry on his knee when getting fouled prior to the Aztec penalty goal by Beal. David is a very nifty man in scoring territory, but his self-analysis is correct. He does make errors, especially in passing. This Best seldom does.
Coach Bradley of the Cosmos was asked if he now considers the Aztecs and his team the two best in the league (they lead their divisions). He replied, "If you had asked me this after our game in New York, I would have rated us far superior, but the Aztecs put their game together, and now we may have to settle it in our third meeting perhaps (in Portland where the title game would be played if both advance that far in the playoffs)."
Pele fine ambassador
Coach Fisher of the Aztecs praised his midfielder Cohen for doing a splendid job of Pele guarding, the entire Aztec team was aggressively "marking" Cosmo players, although Pele had at least two big scoring chances and missed by a narrow margin both times.
Pele is a wonderful ambassador of pro sports. He is nice to all people at all times. His coach says he is late to practices and even press conferences (including yesterday), because he wants to sign every autograph a fan requests. There, must have been 2,000 soccer fans waiting near the Cosmo bus to cheer Pele when he came up from the dressing room. He's some human being — and a colorful performer on the field.
"Yes, after 22 years, me quit this October," he said.
"We hope to see Pele one more time," declared Coach Fisher of the Aztecs. His key man Best agreed. In fact, Best believes it will be quite a game on a neutral, field.
Meanwhile, Best and his buddies must come right back to prove Saturday's performance was not a flash. The Aztecs meet last year's NASL champs, the Toronto Metros, at the Coliseum Monday afternoon.
''Sometimes it is kind of hard to keep the fireworks going," said Best of the July 4 test.