Las Vegas Is Making a Run for the Title, Just Like the Sockers of Old

Times Staff Writer

The Las Vegas Americans, much like the other Major Indoor Soccer League teams, began the season with high hopes.

But it got off to a much slower start than expected. Finally, past midseason, the team has gotten into gear.

Sound like the San Diego Sockers of old?

In a sense, of, course, it is.

The Americans, with five former Sockers on the roster, stumbled along to a 7-12 record. They have since won 11 straight, taking over second-place in the Western Division behind the Sockers.

And the irony of the Las Vegas season pattern has not been lost on one former Socker now playing for the Americans.

"I was just thinking about that the other day," said goalie Alan Mayer, who played for two of San Diego's three indoor championship teams. "We got off to a bad start and came on at midseason. Hopefully, it will continue the way the pattern was for several years in San Diego. We're winning at the right time."

When he was sold to Las Vegas to be a player/coach, Mayer predicted it would take the Americans 20 games to reach full stride.

And that is exactly what happened. Las Vegas began its winning streak in Game No. 20.

Of course, Mayer has a somewhat different role for Las Vegas these days. He still plays goalie, but he has not been the head coach since Don Popovic was hired after the season's 10th game.

Las Vegas was 4-6 under Mayer, including a 5-3 home win against the Sockers in November. The Americans are 14-6 under Popovic.

Mayer said the coaching change was great for himself.

"It's like a big burden off my shoulders," he said. "It's a lot easier and there is a lot less pressure. I don't have to worry about 20 different players. This way, I can sit back and watch the way Pop operates. I'll take in the good and pass out the bad."

The good?

Popovic is the winningest coach in MISL history.

The bad?

Players consider him a dictator. Among other things, Popovic always has early curfews, and he even makes players practice when they are injured.

In fact, Mayer will not play tonight because of a groin injury. A Las Vegas source said that if Mayer had not practiced with the injury, he would have played tonight.

Three other former Sockers figure to be prominent this evening.

Juli Veee, who has since quieted his request for a trade back to San Diego, leads the Americans in scoring. Defenders Martin Donnelly and Gert Wieczorkowski will also be in evidence much of the game.

Midfielder Gerry O'Kane, another former Socker, is sidelined following arthroscopic knee surgery.

But Las Vegas cannot bemoan its injury situation too much. Five San Diego regulars will miss the game with injuries and two others are questionable.

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