Soccerstoriesbook's Blog


AMERICAN CAESAR

Giorgio Chinaglia, the fiery Italian who scored the goals that powered the New York Cosmos to four North American Soccer League titles during the league’s glory days, died at his Naples, FL, home of complications from a heart attack.  He was 69.

After leading Lazio to its first Serie A title and playing for Italy in the 1974 World Cup–where he infamously flipped off coach Ferruccio Valcareggi while being substituted during the opener against Haiti–Chinaglia was signed in 1976 by the Cosmos, who sought a sure-fire goalscorer to pair with Pele.

While the Cosmos got about $20 million’s worth of publicity from the $5 million signing of Pele the previous year, Chinaglia proved to be a bargain when it came to production on the field.  He scored 193 goals in 213 regular-season games before he retired after the league’s second-to-last season in 1983.  That was an NASL record, as were his 49 playoff goals.  Seven of those came in an outrageous 8-1 humiliation of the Tulsa Roughnecks in 1980 as he set post-season records for goals in a playoff game and goals in a single post-season, 19.  He also holds the records for most goals in a season, 34 in 30 games, in 1978, and total points, 79, set that same year, thanks to his 11 assists.

Elected to the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2000, Chinaglia later found himself an exile in his adopted country after a group he was involved with was accused by Italian authorities of price-fixing in the attempted purchase of his former club, Lazio.   [April 1]

Comment:   There are soccer fans here who remember Chinaglia as the American Caesar.  With his outsized ego,  Chinaglia was made for New York, the swingin’ ’70s and the Cosmos, who could number among their followers Mick Jagger and Henry Kissinger.   He marked his arrival by saying of Pele, who showed up in 1976 late and out of shape, “He’s just another player I’ll have to carry until he gets fit.”  He also had the good sense to become close with Warner Communications supremo Steve Ross, the Cosmos’ part-owner and biggest fan.  More important, Chinaglia backed up his bluster by becoming the NASL’s greatest scoring machine.  A classic poacher,  some of his goals were pretty, some not so.  His final notable goal was typical:   In San Diego, he bundled the ball into the goal with his thigh during a goalmouth scramble to give New York a 1-0 victory over the (original) Seattle Sounders in a forgettable Soccer Bowl ’82.

What soccer fans of all ages here will remember is the Giorgio Chinaglia whom ABC teamed with former U.S. star Eric Wynalda as in-studio commentators during its coverage of the 2002 World Cup in Korea/Japan.  Many of those games aired in America during the wee hours, but the Giorgio-Waldo Show proved much more potent than black coffee in keeping viewers awake with their running game of thrust and parry.  Doing most of the thrusting was Wynalda, who played gleeful, smart-alecky high school student to the completely humorless but unflappable social studies teacher Chinaglia, and the result was classic TV.  The two parted ways as Chinaglia went on to host a satellite radio show while Wynalda, paired with Julie Foudy for the ’06 World Cup, became a bit more buttoned down in recent years as studio host for Fox Soccer Channel.  There hasn’t been an on-air duo like Waldo-Chinaglia, and we soccer viewers are the poorer for it.

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A WORLD CUP STAR AT 40

The United States rolled past Colombia, 3-0, at Hoffenheim in its second Group “C” match to clinch a berth in the 2011 Women’s World Cup quarterfinals.  [July 2]

Comment:  The U.S. is bound for the final eight, despite the struggles of scoring ace Abby Wambach, 31.  So is host Germany, which has benched former FIFA World Player of the Year Birgit Prinz, 33.  So when it comes to the star of this Women’s World Cup–at least in the early going for those watching from America–we have to turn to another well-known veteran.   Someone so seasoned she’s not even playing in the tournament. 

Julie Foudy, who won multiple decorations during a 17-year, 271-match international career that ended in 2004, has been a TV commentator and analysist since the 2006 World Cup.   But during this tournament, the Stanford University grad, known for her outgoing personality as a player, has been a particular delight, teaming perfectly with play-by-play man Ian Darke.  The affable Englishman, who first worked for ESPN at the 1994 World Cup, has never needed any help from his sidekicks, some of whom he has had to carry.  But Foudy has been making his job a breeze with her pointed commentary, relaxed manner, occasional jokes and easy banter. 

There’s chemistry, and it’s helped bring out the best in Darke.   To take a page from American history, it’s as if Will Rogers, who never met a man he didn’t like, at long last found someone he really liked. 

It would be foolhardy, even in 2011, to suggest that in the future Foudy should work men’s matches for ESPN.  This is a man’s world, after all, and that world likes its progress in bite-sized pieces.  But for now, Foudy, in her present element, is the smartest, most useful, most entertaining  TV soccer commentator in the U.S.

Comment 2:  For those who suspect that women’s soccer is a bit more refreshing than the men’s game because of its lack of gamesmanship, the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup got deep into its 19th match before a penalty kick was awarded.