Socker players and team vice-president Dick Christman make a habit of pulling pranks on each other.
So when the Sockers had a stopover at Dallas on their way home Monday afternoon, players within earshot were not surprised by what Christman was saying on the phone.
“What?” Christman exclaimed to a league official. “We’re playing tomorrow night? You’re kidding me.”
But the players “knew” who was doing the kidding--Christman. Or so they thought.
“For a while, nobody believed him,” Cha Cha Namdar said. “We thought it was another of the jokes he is always pulling. We told him that if he wasn’t serious, we’d do something to him like we always do.”
Christman told the players he was serious, which is his standard line even when he’s not serious. But this time, it was no joke--as Christman finally convinced the players shortly before they boarded the plane for San Diego.
Consequently, what had been a relaxing day for the Sockers turned mighty serious in a hurry.
Several players said they never even considered the possibility Minnesota would win its protest. They were counting on four days of rest before the Major Indoor Soccer League championship series began.
When the team arrived in San Diego, it was greeted by two dozen fans, television minicams and three sportswriters.
Even then, players still couldn’t believe what had transpired. They asked sportswriters for an interpretation of the decision by Commissioner Francis Dale, but they were not buying the reasoning.
Dale ruled that the Sockers had used an ineligible player during the tie-breaking shootout against Minnesota, a player who scored during the 13th round of the shootout, and thus reversed the Sockers’ eventual 4-3 victory.
“I still don’t believe it,” forward Steve Zungul said. “What’s the reason for this? If the referees allowed somebody to shoot, why should the decision go against us? It doesn’t make any sense.
“If the commissioner said that, he’s a jerk. If he said that, he doesn’t know what soccer is all about.”
Jacques Ladouceur, the center of the controversy, didn’t know what all the commotion was about Sunday night.
He simply followed Coach Ron Newman’s instructions when he went out and scored a shootout goal in Round 13. He said he had no idea that his presence would cause such controversy.
Ladouceur, among the team’s least-heralded players, actually basked in the limelight Sunday when told Minnesota had protested his goal.
“That’s good,” he said. “Maybe I’ll get on TV now.”
Ladouceur did get on television Monday in San Diego. The minicams couldn’t wait to interview him at the airport.
“This,” Ladouceur said, “is not what I had planned at all when I talked about getting on TV.”
Not unlike his teammates, Ladouceur got worked up when Minnesota’s protest was mentioned.
“I’m still shocked the commissioner could make the decision to give them the game and not play it over,” Ladouceur said. “If the referees don’t know the rules, how are we supposed to know the rules? I think this is something to stop us from winning.”
The Sockers, who are known for wild celebrations after winning, were rather subdued after Sunday’s marathon game. They celebrated with champagne in the locker room, but most players went to dinner or straight to bed instead of seeking a party late Sunday night.
“Everybody was definitely tired,” forward Ade Coker said. “We had put in a long, hard day and thought we would be getting four days off. The other team thought its season was over. Right now, they have been given the greatest momentum possible. This is a great gift for them. If anything, the game (tonight) should be played as the fourth game of the series. There’s no way Minnesota should be given the fourth game.”
Under the circumstances, the Sockers can react one of two ways. They will either be tremendously motivated by the circumstances tonight, or they will be flat after thinking they already had the series won.
“I don’t know how we’ll react,” Fernando Clavijo said. “Everyone’s going crazy now. We won the game fair and square. This whole series should be over.”
Maybe it should be, but it isn’t. Even Dick Christman wouldn’t kid the Sockers about that.