The Sockers realized two of their three worst fears in Game 1 of the Major Indoor Soccer League championship series Friday night at the Sports Arena.
Coach Ron Newman feared an early letdown after having beaten Minnesota in an emotional five-game semifinal series. And he was afraid of another letdown after the Sockers gained a three-goal lead on Baltimore. Although those fears were realized, the Sockers escaped their ultimate fear. They did win the game, 5-4, before 11,634 fans.
But the game really should not have been that close. Baltimore's Dave MacWilliams made it a 5-3 game with 4:31 left on an unguarded goal from 10 feet out. And Jeff Prekazi pulled the Blast to within one goal with 1:25 left when Socker goalkeeper Zoltan Toth blocked the shot with his chest and let the ball roll into the net.
"We needed to control the game better and let the clock tick away," Newman said. "We should've made them come and get the ball from us because we were winning. We didn't do the job of getting them to come into our half of the field so we could counterattack."
Early on, the Sockers simply weren't doing the job at all. Baltimore's Tim Wittman scored on a head shot at 8:36 of the first quarter, and Joey Fink scored on his own rebound at 7:12 of the second quarter.
"We played a little casual early," Socker Steve Zungul said. "We were a little exhausted from the Minnesota series. Then we started to force the play and cause them to make mistakes."
The Sockers took the lead for good by scoring four goals in a span of 5:51 of the second quarter. And their lead became three goals on a third-quarter power play.
Branko Segota had two goals and one assist for the Sockers, and Zungul had one goal and two assists. Kaz Deyna had one goal and one assist.
Zungul scored the first Socker goal at 7:36, kicking in the rebound of Segota's shot on a power play. Segota tied the game at 10:35 off a drop pass from Zungul, who had received a pass from Brian Quinn.
"After we got that first goal, it gave us a lift," Segota said. "We started to buzz all around them after that. We started getting the breaks, and we started getting good passes."
Deyna gave the Sockers a 3-2 lead at 11:44 by lofting a 15-foot shot over Baltimore goalkeeper Scott Manning off Kevin Crow's assist. Segota concluded the first-half scoring at 13:29 when he took a heel pass from Zungul, giving San Diego a 4-2 lead.
The Sockers made it 2-for-2 on power plays when Jean Willrich scored the third period's only goal at 11:24 off an assist by Deyna. Manning had kept the game from becoming a possible rout with a great diving save on Zungul at 9:30.
"We knew Baltimore was still good enough to come back then," Willrich said. "But if we would've played all-around defense, it would've been tougher for them to come back."
Toth, who had played an outstanding game in goal, fell apart physically and mentally late in the game. Besides allowing two late goals, he was also screamed at by Newman for placing the ball in the wrong position after the Sockers called timeout with 29 seconds to play.
"It was like time was standing still," Toth said. "Even when I made that save (on Prekazi), the ball came out. I don't believe it."
However, Toth could take comfort in the final result.MISL CHAMPIONSHIP
AT A GLANCE
SOCKERS VS. BLAST
Game 1 Sockers 5, Blast 4 Game 2 Sunday Sports Arena 6:05 p.m. Game 3 May 23 Baltimore 4:35 p.m. Game 4 May 25 Baltimore 10:30 a.m. Game 5 May 27 Sports Arena 7:35 p.m. Game 6 May 29 Baltimore 4:35 p.m. Game 7 June 1 Sports Arena 7:35 p.m. NOTE: Games 5, 6 and 7 if necessary. All times PST.