The San Diego Sockers lost a game on an airplane Monday.
While the Sockers were en route from Minnesota to San Diego, Commissioner Francis Dale of the Major Indoor Soccer League overturned the team's 4-3 win in Sunday night's semifinal playoff game, a victory that had put the team in the finals.
After talking with the game officials and reviewing game reports and rules, Dale upheld a protest by the Minnesota Strikers. He ruled that San Diego's Jacques Ladouceur had been ineligible to participate in the shootout that determined the outcome. A goal scored by Ladouceur was disallowed, and Minnesota was the winner.
The Sockers maintain that 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. "I didn't want to let Jacques kick the ball without the referee's permission. I didn't want there to be a mistake."
Dale's decision tied the series at 2-2 and forced the issue to a fifth and final game tonight at 7:35 at the San Diego Sports Arena.
The Sockers, who have won three straight indoor titles, had thought they would be off until Friday night. At that point, they thought they would be playing the winner of tonight's game between the Baltimore Blast and Cleveland Force.
The critical moment in Sunday night's game occurred in the 13th round of the shootout, a tie-breaking procedure in which players from each team take turns going one-on-one against the opposing goalkeeper.
Ladouceur shot for the Sockers in the 13th round, and it was his goal that was disallowed. Thus, the goal that Minnesota's Jan Goossens scored in the 13th round became the game winner instead of the equalizer.
In ruling that Ladouceur had been ineligible to shoot, Dale negated what happened on the 14th round, 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.
"When they talked about the protest after the game, I thought there was no chance," Newman said. "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, you're no longer eligible," said James Budish, MISL director of operations.
According to Budish, the league ruled that there was a double mistake 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 Socker owner Bob Bell, "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."
Strikers Coach Alan Merrick, who protested to officials that Ladouceur was not one of the players eligible for the shootout, felt vindicated and very happy.
"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 in transit on Monday and unavailable for comment.