Don't Employ the Open-Net Policy on Sockers : Newman's Catch-Up Creation Gets the Blast Close but Not Close Enough

Times Staff Writer

Once again, a Ron Newman innovation has been copied. And once again, the last laugh is on the team doing the copying.

When he first started coaching the Sockers in the indoor game (1980-81), Newman decided it was strategically sound for a trailing team to pull its goalkeeper while there was still enough time left in the game to catch up.

That meant putting in a sixth attacker and using him or a defender as a goalkeeper with six or seven minutes left to play rather than with the customary two.

It worked for Newman then, and he still thinks it's a good philosophy. Even though his teams rarely employ it any more.

"Now, we don't have much reason to practice it because you have to be losing to use it," Newman said. "Now, we practice against it."

That practice has come in handy in the first two games of the Major Indoor Soccer League championship series against the Baltimore Blast.

In the Sockers' 7-3 win over the Blast on Sunday night, Baltimore Blast Coach Kenny Cooper replaced goalkeeper Scott Manning with 7:33 to play.

At that point, a listless Blast team was trailing 4-2, and had not scored or come really close to scoring since forward Joey Fink was successful late in the first quarter.

"You have to gamble when it looks like nothing is going for you," Cooper said. "They were keeping possession and playing out the clock. I had decided at halftime that we'd roll the dice if we were in that situation."

The score was 4-2 at the half, and the teams played an uneventful and scoreless third quarter and half of the final quarter.

"There are different kinds of 4-2 games," Newman said, "and at that time, they really didn't look like they had much of a chance of winning."

Action and crowd reaction picked up when Cooper put forward Stan Stamenkovic in goal. Stamenkovic, 28, said he used to play a lot of goalkeeper when he was 6 years old, and he still enjoys playing in goal when the Blast pull Manning.

If the team is going to use six attackers, Stamenkovic wants to be in goal. When you are the fourth-leading scorer in the league, you often get what you want.

"We practice it all the time," Cooper said, "and we've won games with it in the past."

Cooper remembered once pulling his goalkeeper at the start of the fourth quarter against Pittsburgh two years ago. His team trailed 3-0 at the time, and ended up losing 3-2.

On Friday night, he put Stamenkovic in goal with 4:31 to play and the Blast trailing 5-3. Baltimore made it 5-4 and almost tied the game.

It looked like the Blast might pull an instant replay on Sunday night.

Just 1 minute, 23 seconds after Stamenkovic became the team's hands and legs, Fink scored to make it 4-3.

At that point, there was 6:10 to play. Would Cooper keep rolling the dice, or would Manning come back in the game?

"That's a coaching decision," Manning said, "and I have nothing to do with it. We had the momentum, and he felt we should go for it. "

And Cooper and the Blast did. They had two excellent opportunities to tie the game in the next two minutes. However, they could not convert either one, and everyone knew it was just a matter of time before the Sockers took advantage of what was often an empty net.

"I'd heard around the league grapevine that teams shouldn't pull this against us because we're such an explosive team," Newman said.

The Blast were fortunate on a number of occasions. Stamenkovic made a surprising and stunning kick save off a point-blank shot off the foot of Steve Zungul.

"I know Steve from Yugoslavia," Stamenkovic said, "and I know he goes for the left side of the goal."

He guessed left and he was right.

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