The San Diego Sockers lost a game on an airplane Monday.
While the Sockers were en route from Minnesota to San Diego, Francis Dale, Commissioner of the Major Indoor Soccer League, upheld Minnesota’s protest of San Diego’s 4-3 win over the Strikers in Sunday night’s semifinal playoff game.
After talking with the referees and reviewing game reports and rules, Dale ruled that San Diego’s Jacques Ladouceur was ineligible to participate in the shootout which decided the match. A goal scored by Ladouceur was disallowed, and Minnesota was declared the winner.
Furthermore, there would be no replay, from the point of protest or otherwise. The game was finally over after four regular periods, an overtime period, 14 shootout rounds and numerous long distance telephone calls.
All of this transpired in spite of the fact that the Sockers maintain they consulted with game officials and got their approval before using Ladouceur.
“You don’t have shootouts every week,” said Ron Newman, the Sockers’ coach, “and I didn’t want to let Jacques kick the ball without the referee’s permission. I didn’t want there to be a mistake.”
He did not want a mistake, but he got that and more. A loss as well.
The Dale Decision ties the series at two wins apiece and forces the series to a fifth and deciding game tonight at 7:35 in the Sports Arena.
And the Sockers, who have won three straight indoor titles, thought they would be off until Friday night. At that point, they thought they would be playing the winner of tonight’s deciding game of the semifinal playoff series between the Baltimore Blast and Cleveland Force.
As it has turned out, there will be two deciding games tonight.
The critical moment in Sunday night’s game came in the 13th round of the shootout, a tie-breaking procedure in which players from each team take turns shooting at the goalkeeper, one-against-one.
Ladouceur shot for the Sockers on the 13th round, and it was his goal that was disallowed on the grounds that he was ineligible to shoot. Thus, the goal Minnesota’s Jan Goossens scored in the 13th round won the game instead of tying it.
In ruling that Ladouceur was ineligible to shoot, Dale negated what happened on the 14th round. That was when the Sockers thought they had won.
Steve Zungul scored what was, until Monday, the winning goal on a penalty kick in that 14th round. After Zungul’s goal, John Bain of the Strikers hit the right upright on his attempt to tie the game.
It was over, but it wasn’t over.
“When they talked about the protest after the game,” said Newman, “I thought there was no chance. I was quite happy that the referee (Esse Baharmast) had told me Jacques could kick the ball. What’s my next move when he says Jacques can shoot?”
The MISL rules dictate that a coach must designate 10 shooters and two alternates in the shootout. The alternates can be used to replace injured players.
Ladouceur was one of the 10 shooters designated by Newman to participate in the shootout, but he was not one of the first 10 players to shoot. Ade Coker shot in his place in the 10th round.
“Once you’re replaced,” said James Budish, MISL Director of Operations, “you’re no longer eligible.”
Newman, who does not carry a rule book during games and said he should not have to, claimed he specifically asked Baharmast if Ladouceur was eligible to shoot.
According to Budish, the league ruled that there was a double mistake on Sunday night.
“It was a combination of a mistake by the official and by the Sockers,” Budish said. “Baharmast’s job is to collect shootout cards and record names. He is the secretary to the shootout.
“But ultimately, the responsibility lies with a coach knowing the rules of the game.”
Newman: “The officials are in charge of rules, and if I ask a referee for clearance, he should help us.”
“In the excitement of the game,” said Bob Bell, Socker owner, “my coach did get confused. He sought help from the referees. They gave him help by saying we could use Jacques. And, as it turns out, the referees were wrong.
“It’s not Minnesota’s fault, and it’s certainly not our fault. If anything, the game should be a replay. They should not take the game away from us.”
Budish said the toughest part of Dale’s decision was to decide how to deal with what was definitely a violation.
“I don’t think you can penalize Minnesota by taking a goal away from a player who was eligible to score,” Budish said. “I don’t know if there’s any other situation like this, but the commissioner thought this was the just way, the right way, and the fairest way.”
Alan Merrick, Strikers’ coach, who protested to officials that Ladouceur was not one of the players eligible for the shootout, felt vindicated.
“I can understand why San Diego is disappointed at having the game taken away from them,” Merrick said, “but I feel justice is being served when all were aware of the eligible and ineligible players.”
Dale, who replaced Earl Foreman as MISL commissioner on May 1, was unavailable for comment Monday.
It wasn’t his words, as much as his decision, that drew the wrath of Newman.
“The trouble is we have a new commissioner,” Newman said. “I think Joe Robbie (owner of the Strikers) was on the line and he scared the bloody daylights out of the commissioner. Remember he (Robbie) is an attorney.”
Newman added that in real soccer (the outdoor game), the protest would have to have been made before the next kick was taken.
“Once the kickoff is taken again,” Newman said, “you’ve had it. “
But that’s in the established game of soccer. Indoor soccer has been known for its new rules and the controversy they have created.
How does Budish think Monday’s decision will affect the credibility of the league?
“I think you have to do what’s right,” said Budish. “If doing what’s right hurts the league, it’s a a consequence of being fair and reasonable. When you do something fair, the league will benefit in the long run.”
With a fifth game that might draw a sellout crowd, the teams and league might benefit in the near future. That is, if in 24 hours, the Sockers can promote their biggest game of the season.
Many of the people going to the ticket windows Monday were probably buying tickets for Friday’s Game 1 of the best-of-seven final series. They couldn’t have known about Sunday night’s loss--or make it Monday’s loss.
Budish, however, insisted that the potential for a large gate in San Diego was not a part of the decision.
“When the commissioner reviewed the matter,” said Budish, “I don’t think he purposedly thought this would give San Diego another gate or more notoriety.”
Budish added that in the playoffs, the competing teams share gate revenues, and the league gets a set amount that goes into a pool for the players.
Bell conceded that the additional game would bring his team added revenue, but said the financial loss would be monumental if the Sockers lost and missed a chance to participate in the championship series.
The Sockers have won 16 straight playoff games at home, but Newman is all too aware that anything is possible in a fifth game.
Especially after Monday’s events.
“Unfortunately, we were celebrating last night,” Newman said on Monday afternoon. “That’s not the best way to prepare. The other team has a new lease on life, but we’ll come out angry.
“We won that bloody game on Sunday.”