Monday, May 24, 2010

Rowdies Avenge Soccer Bowl '79, 5/18/80

On September 8, 1979, the Vancouver Whitecaps defeated the Tampa Bay Rowdies 2-1 in the Soccer Bowl '79 championship game. For the second straight season, the Rowdies fell just short of a North American Soccer League championship.

They would not have to wait very long, however, for their first crack at avenging that defeat to Vancouver.

In a nationally televised showdown on ABC -- with a special in-stadium appearance by the San Diego Chicken -- the Rowdies hosted the Whitecaps at Tampa Stadium on May 18, 1980.

While the names of the teams were the same, both Tampa Bay and Vancouver bore little resemblance to the teams that faced off in Giants Stadium eight months earlier. With the Rowdies at 5-3 and the defending champions a mere 4-5, the matchup proved somewhat less glamorous than their previous contest. Injuries had taken an early toll on the Rowdies, while the Whitecaps had struggled with some high-priced new talent.

The Rowdies were hopeful that new acquisition Manny Andruszewski could have an immediate impact. A noted defensive specialist, the Rowdies acquired him from Southampton Football Club in the English First Division. Andruszewski had previously played for the Rowdies in 1979 while on loan from Southampton. On May 16, the Rowdies purchased the 23-year-old fullback's contract outright, a transaction rumored to have cost $250,000 ($642,493 in today's dollars).

He made his Tampa debut almost exactly one year earlier in a sweltering home contest against the New York Cosmos. His first experience in Florida weather proved memorable, as he needed to get iced down at the half to combat his 103-degree body temperature.

On another hot and humid day, the Rowdies welcomed back another important player as well: Oscar Fabbiani. Known as the "Big O," Fabbiani had been sidelined with an injured ankle since an April 20 game against the Cosmos in New York. Injuries to Fabbiani, Wes McLeod and Peter Anderson had contributed to the team's recent lack of scoring punch. Teams could also concentrate on shutting down Steve Wegerle and Neill Roberts without the presence of an additional scoring threat such as Fabbiani.

In front of 27,504 fans at a sweltering Tampa Stadium -- the gametime temperature was 93 degrees -- the Rowdies regained that scoring punch thanks in large part to Fabbiani.

The Rowdies energized the crowd early with two goals in the game's first 15 minutes. Peter Baralic set up the first goal in the 9th minute with a nifty pass to Steve Wegerle, who weaved through three defenders before putting the ball in the back of the net. For Wegerle, it was his fourth goal of the season, and just the start of what striker Neill Roberts called a "classic" performance.

"It was the best display I've ever seen in the NASL," Roberts said of Wegerle following the game.

Barely more than 5 minutes later, Oscar Fabbiani celebrated his return to the lineup by putting a penalty kick past Bruce Grobbelaar to make the score 2-0.

Despite trailing by two goals, Vancouver would not go away quietly. Trevor Whymark, who tallied both of Vancouver's Soccer Bowl '79 goals against the Rowdies, beat Winston DuBose in the 26th minute to make it a 2-1 game.

The Whitecaps would eventually even the score early in the second half. Bob Boltho beat DuBose inside the near post, putting it just over his shoulder to tie the game 2-2.

To curb Vancouver's momentum, Tampa Bay head coach Gordon Jago moved Andruszewski from fullback to midfield to shadow Vancouver midfielder and English soccer legend Alan Ball. The move worked, as Tampa Bay successfully stifled the Vancouver attack and created an opening for the eventual game-winning goal.

In the 73rd minute, team captain Jan Van Der Veen found an opening in the middle near the penalty box, and rather than taking a shot on goal, dished off to Fabbiani on his left. Fabbiani made a move around one defender and then slipped the ball past Grobbelaar for the deciding goal, his second of the game. Not a bad performance for someone playing in his first full game in nearly eight months.

"That was a world-class goal," Ball said after the game. "And it took a world-class goal to beat us."

The Rowdies would hold on for a 3-2 victory over the Whitecaps, an important win that while not offering complete redemption for Soccer Bowl '79, instilled the Rowdies with a renewed sense of swagger.

"The result today and the manner of it will be a confidence builder," said Jago. "This was a good side we beat."

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