The San Diego Sockers thought they were on their way to a fourth-straight professional indoor soccer championship.
The Minnesota Strikers thought they were on their way to their off-season homes.
They both thought wrong.
On Monday, Major Indoor Soccer League Commissioner Francis Dale, upheld the Strikers' protest of a 4-3 loss Sunday night in Minnesota and awarded the game to the Strikers.
That left the best-of-five MISL semifinal playoff series tied at two games apiece and forced a deciding game tonight at 7:35 at the San Diego Sports Arena.
"I'm ecstatic," said Minnesota Coach Alan Merrick, who lodged the protest. "I can understand why San Diego is disappointed at having the game taken away from them, but I feel justice is being served."
Francis Reilly, the Sockers' vice president, was not of the same opinion.
"We are absolutely shocked that a technicality would reverse the results of performance on the field," he said, adding that San Diego has asked Dale to review his decision.
The teams were tied 3-3 at the end of regulation and a 15-minute overtime period Sunday, necessitating the shootout, in which players go one-on-one against the opposing goalkeeper.
In the 13th round of the shootout, San Diego's Jacques Ladouceur scored. Minnesota's Jan Goossens tallied to send the game to a 14th round, when the Sockers' Steve Zungul scored for the victory.
Merrick protested to officials that Ladouceur was not one of the players the Sockers declared eligible for the shootout.
In a telephone conference call Monday among Merrick, Dale, Striker General Manager Tim Robbie and San Diego owner Bob Bell, Dale ruled that Ladouceur was ineligible. He nullified Ladouceur's goal, meaning that Goossens scored the game-winner prior to Zungul's goal.
Bell called the situation "an unbelievable nightmare."
"In the excitement of the game, my coach (Ron Newman) did get confused," he said. "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."
Bell and Reilly were especially upset that Dale made his ruling without consulting either the referees or Newman, who was in flight from Bloomington.
Newman and his players, in fact, did not learn of the decision until their arrival in San Diego.
"I still don't believe it," 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."
Added Ladouceur: "I'm still shocked the commissioner could make the decision to give them the game and not play it over. 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."
Newman, who led the Sockers to indoor championships in the NASL in 1981-82 and 1983-84 and the MISL in 1982-83, also blasted Dale's decision.
"You don't have shootouts every week," he said. "I didn't want to let Jacques kick the ball without the referee's permission. I didn't want there to be a mistake."
James Budish, the MISL's director of operations, said, however, that the final responsibility lay with Newman, not referee Esse Baharmast.
"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."
Dale, who replaced Earl Foreman as MISL commissioner on May 1, was in transit Monday and unavailable for comment.
The winner of tonight's game will play the winner of the Cleveland-Baltimore game, also being played tonight, for the MISL championship.