Pele bids Los Angeles adieu

Ken Gurnick
Date Published: 
Valley News

Pele, the legendary king of soccer. Franz Beckenbauer, the "Kaiser" of German soccer. Giorgio Chinaglia, Italy's master of the sport.

It looks like a who's who of international soccer stars. It also happens to be the heart and soul of the Cosmos starting lineup and it will be on display tomorrow afternoon when the Cosmos take on the Los Angeles Aztecs in a battle of two North American Soccer League division leaders.

Aztec officials are expecting a Memorial Coliseum crowd of 40,000 for the 2 p.m. kickoff and Southland soccer fans should be treated to the finest gathering of soccer stars in the history of Los Angeles.

Tomorrow will mark Pele's farewell to soccer, at least for Los Angeles fans. The Brazilian folk hero, who is playing in his 22nd season, has announced his career will conclude after this NASL season.

It also will be the first Los Angeles appearance for Beckenbauer and Chinaglia.

In addition to the farewells and debuts, it just happens to be a very important game for both teams.

The Aztecs, who returned yesterday from their toughest road trip of the year, currently lead the Pacific Conference Southern Division with 103 points, holding a four-point advantage over the Dallas Tornado. Los Angeles' record is 11-5, tops in the league.

The Cosmos' statistics are equally impressive. With the addition of Beckenbauer (twice
Europe's player of the year), the Cosmos have started winning games in bunches. They have been victorious in six of their last seven games including a 5-2 thrashing of Los Angeles last week at Giants' Stadium before a crowd of 57,191.

Aztecs await Pele in battle for the best

That game was marked by Pele's third three-goal performance of the year, the 93rd time he has accomplished the difficult hat trick.

The Cosmos lead the Atlantic Conference Eastern Division with 100 points, holding a comfortable 14-point margin over second-place Ft. Lauderdale.

Despite the collection of multi-talented stars (with multi-million dollar contracts), the Cosmos don't have the Aztecs worried.

Los Angeles has a few stars of its own. Like Steve David, for example.

A malcontent with Miami last year, David obviously is happy in Los Angeles. David scored two more goals in the Aztecs' 3-2 win over Connecticut Wednesday night bringing his league-leading total to 18.

That is 12 short of the league record of 30, shared by John Kowalik of Chicago and Cirilo Fernandez of San Diego, both in the 1968 season.

David also is within range of Kowalik's total scoring record of 69 points, set that same year.

One of the big reasons that David has been so successful is George Best who took over as the offensive quarterback when he arrived from England in mid-May.

Best, who proceeded Beckenbauer as European footballer of the year by eight years, has turned David into a scoring machine with his perfectly-timed passes that allow the Trinidad native to release high percentage shots.

Best leads the league in assists with nine, and currently is tied for the fourth spot in the scoring derby with 21 points.

David's closest competition for the scoring lead comes from Pele, who has 25 points. Pele has been red-hot of late, and with 11 goals on the year, should top his performance of 13 scored last season, which only was good enough to nab him the NASL's most valuable player award.

Chinaglia also is in the top 10 in scoring with 19 points.