What Gaston Cellerino accomplished Sunday night had an extreme degree of difficulty.
He not only scored a hat trick in the Cosmos' 3-2 victory over the Ottawa Fury FC in the North American Soccer League championship game but managed to outshine two of his team's retiring stars.
The Argentine striker's performance allowed Spanish legends Raul and Marcos Senna to retire as champions as the Cosmos earned a league-record seventh title.
"It was amazing, no?'' said Raul, who forged a reputation as a goal-scoring machine.
"Today he was fantastic,'' Cosmos coach Giovanni Savarese said.
Raul, who made his name with Real Madrid and the Spanish national team, walked out of Shuart Stadium with mixed emotions.
"This is like a dream, to finish in one final, to win one difficult game,'' he said. "I am very happy and I am very sad.''
Cellerino's production was surprising for someone who had scored only one goal in eight regular-season games since joining the club Aug. 17.
Savarese said the team needed a strong forward who "makes good runs inside the box.''
"We knew that he needed work,'' he said. "We knew he wasn't in top shape. We always said from the beginning that he needed time. Little by little, he started to find his way.''
Players from past Cosmos championship teams and Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony, the owner of the NASL's new Puerto Rico expansion team, were among the crowd of 10,166, a modern NASL playoff record.
They certainly were entertained during a frenetic final 22 minutes that featured a red card and four goals.
With the Cosmos enjoying a 1-0 lead on a fine individual effort by Cellerino in the eighth minute, Ottawa defender Mason Trafford was red-carded for stomping on Sebastian Guenzatti in the 68th.
The Fury surprisingly equalized on the first of two goals by Tom Heinemann, off a through ball two minutes later.
The Cosmos pushed back. Walter Restrepo floated in a right-wing cross toward the far post. Several players leaped for the ball, which hit an Ottawa player and Cellerino before landing in the net past goalkeeper Romuald Peiser for a 2-1 advantage.
"We thought that with 10 men, things would have been a little bit better in our favor,'' Savarese said. "They scored a goal, but we rebounded right back. It was important for the maturity of our players to be calm.''
No one was calmer than Cellerino, who added an insurance goal off a counterattack on a feed by Raul in the 85th minute. That was needed as Heinemann converted a rebound two minutes into stoppage time.