Push came to shove in Rowdies' victory

Dave Scheiber
Date Published: 
St. Petersburg Times

SAN JOSE, Calif.—Spartan Stadium is perfectly named. Framed by towering pines, it slopes gracefully into the sculpted California terrain, resembling some huge Roman amphitheater. But the name seemed especially fitting Wednesday night, when the San Jose Earthquakes tried to turn their match with the Tampa Bay Rowdies into a gladiator exhibition. The Earthquakes pushed and shoved their way to 22 of the 34 fouls called, had two players ejected late in the game and nearly began a brawl when time ran out.

The San Jose fans must have been studying up on their Roman history lessons, because they staged a lively show of feed the referee to the lions after the game. As head official John Carpenter trotted to his dressing room, an angry mob chased him, bloodied his nose and had to be turned back by police. It was a messy conclusion to what had been an artful 3-0 victory by the Rowdies at the site of their 1975 Soccer Bowl championship triumph.

"It was a tragedy because you don't want a soccer game to end like that," said Tampa Bay coach Gordon Jago. "It's disappointing to see a team lose control of their emotions." Rowdies captain Jan Van Der Veen felt the same way. "They should keep that kind of stuff in Europe," he said. "Some of the tackles they were trying to make were ridiculous."

DEFENDER JOHN GORMAN was even more economical: "They were crazy."

You could tell there was something raspy about the game — even before it started. Halfway through the National Anthem, a fireworks display went off ahead of schedule and completely drowned out the music for a good 15 seconds. Then who should come bounding onto the field but Krazy George. But he wasn't wearing his normal Tampa Bay jersey. Clad in San Jose red and white, he proceeded to rouse one side of the bleachers into a bellowing chant of "EARTH!" and the other into a loud chorus of "QUAKES!"

The lousy two-timer.

As it turned out, Krazy George wasn't the only Krazy George in the vicinity.

Legendary soccer star George Best, now a midfielder with San Jose, may well have outdone his fellow George in the unabashed belligerence department.

BEST BEGAN HIS ANTICS late in the first half. Teammate Steve David had pushed Gorman head-on into Tampa Bay goalkeeper Winston DuBose at the far side of the penalty box. DuBose managed to cover the loose ball and then leaped to his feet to scold David. While players and officials converged on the scene, Best weaved his way into the pack and began to kick at the ball in DuBose's hands. Referee John Carpenter separated the pack without handing out any warnings, but Best was just warming up.

His encore came with 21 minutes left in the game and the Rowdies protecting a 1-0 lead. San Jose was pushing hard on offense when Carpenter issued Best a yellow card for roughness. The short-fused Irishman argued momentarily and then was awarded another caution for dissent. The pair of warnings spelled automatic ejection from the game for Best and trouble for the ref. Best lunged toward Carpenter and had to be dragged from the field by three teammates and head coach Bill Foulkes.

"He gave me a red card for what everybody else in the game was doing," seethed Best. "We were right in the game when he did it and I really thought we were about to get them."

"George still has so much talent, but it's a shame to see he still has such a hot head," said midfielder Wes McLeod. "If he had kept his cool, he might have helped them tie it up."

McLeod was one of the heroes for Tampa Bay. Returning to midfield after three games on the defensive line, he gave the Rowdies a 1-0 lead late in the first half. The play developed near the 35-yard-line, where defender Mike Connell fed Van Der Veen. Reading the play well, McLeod dashed down the left sideline, took the pass from Van Der Veen and smashed it 20 yards on the ground for the score.

"Wesley made a perfect run," said Van Der Veen, "and he couldn't have made a better kick."

THE RUGGED DUTCH midfielder didn't do so badly himself. He picked up his 13th assist of the season on the McLeod goal and collected No. 14 — his sixth in the last three games — with 9:31 remaining in the match. Van Der Veen flicked a little pass to Oscar Fabbiani on an indirect free kick and the Chilean striker looped the ball inside the far post for the insurance goal.

Fabbiani is now just one-half of the Rowdies' South American connection. The other portion is Uruguayan forward Washington Olivera. And late Wednesday night, the Latin duo showed just how well they can tango. Olivera entered the game with 15 minutes left — a substitute for Neill Roberts who had his ankle stepped on. Fabbiani and Olivera worked a pair of impressive give-and-goes and the new Rowdie grabbed the spotlight with eight seconds left in the game with a goal on his second shot. Midfielder Peter Anderson provided the pass and Olivera sent a left-footed rocket just under the crossbar from 15-yards away.

"It was a tremendous left-footed shot," said Jago. "I hadn't planned on using him in the game, because I didn't want to bloody him to quickly. But he showed he has the poise and talent."

OLIVERA AND FABBIANI have already struck up a great friendship. The two spend their time laughing and joking in Spanish — something Fabbiani has been unable to do with a teammate all season.

"I think it's going to be very good for both of them," Jago said. "It could give Oscar a little incentive to do a little extra on the field. He's already acting like an older brother to Washington."

"I fell very good he score," said Fabbiani. "Very good player."

Olivera's last second goal was nearly overshadowed in the scuffle that broke out at the end. Defender Ane Mihailovich spared the ruckus when he sent his spikes flying at Connell's leg. "He was going for the leg all right," said Connell. "But there weren't any punches thrown. There were some pushes and I just told him he better not try that again."

The wouldn't have been time because the game was over. The Rowdies were in first place in the American Eastern division and the victory-starved lions from San Jose were still looking for a meal.