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TBT: New York Cosmos’ Greatest Scorer Giorgio Chinaglia

NEW YORK CITY, NY - JUNE 29: Shep Messing and Giorgio Chinaglia attend A Special Screening of Miramax Films, 'Once In a Lifetime' at Core Club on June 29, 2006 in New York City. (Photo by Jimi Celeste/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)

The New York Cosmopolitans Football Club, the beacon of Queens, Brooklyn and Long Island in terms of the New York City soccer totem pole of influence and affluence, is blessed to have been a champion of the North American Soccer League for a record seven times across both of its incarnations. It is currently pursuing an unprecedented eighth. Many names have donned the iconic green and white strip of the competition’s signature club. Pele remains the historic figurehead, the honorary president for life at the Cosmos. But there is one, and only one, player that has been the workhorse in terms of being a finisher, a provider, a leader and a winner.

Sure, Landon Donovan has won more league titles, but before America’s most accomplished football, that Soccer King of Redlands, was a twinkle in his mother’s eye…there he was, the Italian stallion himself, the late Giorgio Chinaglia, making plays and scoring goals before record crowds at the Meadowlands, celebrating like a madman at a disco party with his loyal supporters in the heyday of the disco era, developing a cult following perhaps comparable to Zlatan Ibrahimovic in terms of ego, moxie, confidence, arrogance and elegance. Standing at a tall, imposing 1.86 meters, or six foot one (hence the nickname “Long John”), Chinaglia won four NASL titles with the Cosmos and remained an influential figure until his passing on April 1, 2012.

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The story of Giorgio Chinaglia began on January 24, 1947, in the small town of Carrara, Italy, 62 miles west-northwest of Florence. Carrara, Tuscany is a town of 63,409 people, but it was here in this town that Chinaglia began to pick up the game of soccer. However, he would never be good enough to be a fixture for the Italian national team (he only scored four times in 14 appearances lifetime), so his legacy as a player would solely come down to his work with his clubs.

Chinaglia started his youth career at Swansea Town after his family moved to Cardiff, Wales in 1955. from 1962 through 1966, Chinaglia would learn the ropes of professionalism before returning to Italy. In those days, Italian players were banned from playing in Serie A if they had played professionally outside of Italy, so he would begin his career in Italy with SSD Massese, a small club that currently plays in Serie D. He scored five times in 32 appearances for Massese while completing his military service.

From 1967 through 1969, Chinaglia took his trade to another club that also currently plays in Serie D, S.S.D. Puteolana 1902 Internapoli. At Internapoli, Giorgio scored 24 goals in 66 appearances. Following the 1968-69 season, Chinaglia got his first big break, playing for SS Lazio from 1969 through 1976, scoring 98 goals in 209 appearances, including one Serie A title in 1974.

However, despite the success in Italy, Chinaglia faced abuse from opposition and the law. In 1972, Chinaglia invested in real estate and considered getting a fresh start in America. Three years later, he requested to then-president of the Cosmos, Clive Toye, “either I play for you, or I buy my own club.” It was an offer Toye couldn’t refuse.

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The payout was immense. In 1976, Chinaglia joined Cosmos and went on a scoring rampage. He set the single-season scoring record in 1978 with 34 goals, scored 193 goals in 213 appearances, recorded 76 goals in 66 total matches in 1980, was named the NASL Top Goalscorer four times, and won the Soccer Bowl for New York in 1977, 1978, 1980 and 1982. As a result of all of his work for this club, his No. 9 jersey has been retired by the organization.

Despite getting a fresh start, Chinaglia never got away from the vices that came from being one of the best strikers America had ever seen. His outspoken, broash, extroverted tendencies made his controversial, brash and rebellious, and it did lead to volatile relationship with managers and teammates.

Furthermore, his legal troubles piled up back in Italy, and it was for this reason that Giorgio never looked back. A president of Lazio from 1983 through 1985, Chinaglia became a United States citizen in 1979 and upon his death he was survived by his three children: Cynthia, Giorgio Jr. and Stephanie, all of who established the Giorgio Chinaglia Foundation in his honor.

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Here’s Giorgio Chinaglia’s list of honors…

Club

Lazio
Serie A: 1973–74
Coppa delle Alpi: 1971
New York Cosmos
North American Soccer League: 1977, 1978, 1980, 1982

Individual

Serie A Top Goalscorer: 1973–74
Serie B Top Goalscorer: 1971–72
Coppa delle Alpi Top Goalscorer: 1971
NASL Top Goalscorer: 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981
NASL MVP: 1981
N° 9 jersey retired by the Cosmos

And some highlights. Enjoy.

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