August 25th is the 40th anniversary of the Philadelphia Atoms’ NASL championship win over the Dallas Tornado. PSP will be celebrating the Atoms and their historic inaugural season championship win with a series of articles in the run up to the anniversary. The series continues with a look at the Atoms’ semifinal win over the Toronto Metros in the NASL playoffs.
The Philadelphia Atoms had already secured their place in the league record books heading into the NASL championship semifinal against the Toronto Metros at Veteran’s Stadium on Aug. 18, 1973.
In their inaugural season the Atoms had recorded a 12-game unbeaten streak and scored three goals in three minutes against the Rochester Lancers. They had set a new league record for the highest ever attendance in their season opener and had the highest average attendance in the league on their way to claiming the Eastern Division title. Head coach Al Miller had just become the first American coach to be named the league’s Coach of the Year after leading his team to a 9-2-8 record. Protected by the the best defense in the league, nicknamed the “No Goal Patrol,” goalkeeper Bob Rigby’s goals against average stood at 0.62 with six shutouts.
But such accomplishments would lose some of their luster if the team didn’t make it to the championship final.
The two regular season matches against Toronto had both ended as draws. The Metros were no defensive slouches themselves, allowing only 18 goals in the regular season for a 6-4-9 record and the Northern Division title, a remarkable turnaround for a team that had the year before had failed to defeat any divisional opponent on the way to finishing at the bottom of the four-team division.
The winner of the Atoms-Metros semifinal would face the Dallas Tornado, winners of the 1971 NASL championship, who had defeated the New York Cosmos 1-0 three days in the other semifinal. Dallas was the only team in the league with a better record than the Atoms.
Atoms coach Miller believed fitness and cooperation were the keys to his team’s success. Miller said his team was “fit from the beginning.”
“I emphasize the importance of being in shape,” Miller explained, adding, “We also have a strong spirit of cooperation among all the players and that helped us to win.”
Toronto felt confident heading into the match, with Metros general manager Jack Daley saying, “We’re peaking right now.”
Atom’s midfielder George O’Neill described Toronto as the “best side we’ve played this year.”
Philadelphia soccer fans came out in numbers for the semifinal with some 18,766 at the Vet, the second largest turnout of the season for the Atoms. They were treated to a commanding performance.
Andy “The Flea” Provan, the fan favorite on loan from English third division side Southport who had scored a hat trick the week before in the 5-1 rout of the St. Louis Stars, opened the scoring in the 33rd minute. The Inquirer match report on Aug. 19 described it as a flukey kind of goal, with Provan making poor contact and the Metros goalkeeper appearing likely to make a save before the ball “hit a patch of astroturf (probably where the football goal posts are positioned)” and then bounced over the keeper’s head.
Provan said of his shot after the game, “I only half hit it.” It was his 12th goal of the season.
In the 52nd minute, the Atoms were awarded a penalty after Jim Fryatt, another player on loan from Southport, was fouled in the box. Fryatt made no mistake and tallied his seventh goal of the season.
Fryatt said of his penalty kick technique, “I just concentrate on sheer accuracy.”
Karl Minor put the game to bed with an 8 yard strike that deflected off of a Metros defender before finding the back of the net.
The week before, Minor had missed an open netter against St. Louis. “This week,” he said. “I didn’t have time to think.”
With the final whistle, the fans at the Vet went nuts. Steve Holroyd writes, “Veterans Stadium sounded more like Wembley after the match, with fans singing Auld Lang Syne as they bid their team good luck in the final.”
While the fans were going crazy, there was little celebrating in the Atoms locker room. The players, while pleased with the emphatic win, were already preparing themselves for the final.
But there was something else too.
Minor spoke for his teammates when he described his disappointment that the final would not be at the Vet in front of the fans who had so strongly supported the team through the season. “It makes me mad that we drew a few games. It cost us the championship game being here. These people really deserve it.”
Atoms general manager Bob Ehlinger echoed Minor’s words when he said, “I don’t think any team would have a chance with the finals with these crowds.”
On August 25, 1973, the Atoms would take their chance in Dallas.
Click here to link to the rest of the series and more articles on the Atoms.