The passing of Giorgio Chinaglia will always be remembered as a sorrowful date in the history of the American game. Several weeks have passed and his fans have had their opportunities to mourn the death of a soccer icon and a hero to many.
In Italy, supporters responded in a passionate fashion, including a massive tifo unveiled at a Lazio match. It was a way to say goodbye to a player that meant everything to them. Lazio coach Edy Reja even dedicated a victory over Napoli to Chinaglia’s memory. In America, the best soccer writers and analysts paid tribute with their words.
Chinaglia was the biggest star to ever shine on a U.S. league, a superstar on a team of superstars and one of the purest strikers to ever play the game. He was the crowning piece of America’s first soccer dynasty, a team known as the New York Cosmos. Because of Chinaglia and the Cosmos, soccer had a chance in America and it exploded onto the national scene.
Pairing the former Italy and Lazio forward with the world famous Pelé, Franz Beckenbauer, and Carlos Alberto was pure genius. The accomplishment: Chinaglia simply scored goals and created records. He was the last of a generation of pure strikers that did one thing and did it well: scored goals and lots of them. He was the right man to energize the American soccer scene, the right man to make it relevant on a big stage.
In his prime, he was indefensible and would often breakout in wild fashion, showering goals on his opponents. In 1980, Chinaglia scored an incredible and completely unheard of 7 goals in a single playoff match against Tulsa. In all he scored 193 goals in 213 NASL matches, a record that is still incomprehensible to many. Today he has no counterpart; there is no such dominant player.
His success is best remembered by a famous quote.“I am Chinaglia. If I shoot from a place, it’s because Chinaglia can score from there.” Not lacking confidence, he made everyone live in his shadow, including his famed teammates with the Cosmos.
But there was more to Chinaglia than his larger than life personality and no one shared a closer relationship with him than former Lazio and Cosmos owner Peppe Pinton.
“We were like a team,” Pinton commeneted. “I lost a friend, a leader, a man that contributed to the growth of the sport in this country.”
Pinton enjoyed his 20+ years of friendship with Chinaglia, emphasizing the impact it had on his life. He praised Chinaglia’s vision for life, one of hard work and perseverance, saying it helped him become the person he is today.
The pair saw the rise and fall of the NASL, the highs and lows that make up the history of soccer in America. They were there for the record crowds at Giants Stadium as soccer took its hold on the American people, but they also saw the league sputter and eventually fold.
“Giorgio and the Cosmos paved the way for what we enjoy today,” Pinton stated. “They paved the way for David Beckham.”
For over 20 years, Pinton kept the Cosmos brand alive with hopes of a return finally becoming a reality. The Cosmos name is now front and center once again as they fight to become the 20th MLS team.
“The revival of the Cosmos gave Giorgio pride,” Pinton continued. Chinaglia had joined the relaunched Cosmos as a soccer ambassador, a role he had embraced all his life.
Al of that being said, it is safe to say that no article or honor would do Chinaglia’s career justice. His greatness and love of the game transcended the beautiful game in a way that no other has ever done. Being great in a soccer mad country is one thing, but becoming an icon in a land barren of the sport is another.