It might come as a big surprise to San Diego fans, but there really was parity in the Major Indoor Soccer League this season.
Five teams in the Eastern Division and two teams in the West didn't know where they would finish in the standings until last Saturday night, the next to last day of the regular season. However, while these clubs were sweating, the Sockers were yawning.
San Diego clinched the Western Division title on March 15 and has been playing to break league records ever since. When the Sockers sold Steve Zungul to Tacoma Feb. 4, it was rumored that San Diego might no longer dominate the league. Wrong. They were 16-5 PZ (Post Zungul).
Now that the playoffs are finally set to begin this week, the consensus around the league is that the Sockers are definitely the team to beat.
If that sounds familiar, it is. San Diego has won four straight indoor championships, including the MISL title last season.
"Sooner or later, the champion will have to go through San Diego," said St. Louis Steamer Coach Pat McBride, whose team opens its best-of-five series against the Sockers Thursday night at the San Diego Sports Arena. "No doubt, we would have preferred to play Wichita in the first round."
Wichita will face Tacoma in the other Western Division quarterfinal series. In the East, Baltimore faces Cleveland and Dallas will meet Minnesota.
Three of the series are considered to be quite even. Any guess which series is believed to be one-sided?
At 36-12, the Sockers were nine games better than any other club in the league. Wichita and Cleveland were both 27-21. Wichita finished second in the Western Division and Cleveland won the Eastern Division.
Just how good is this year's team?
"We're getting close to perfection," said Socker Coach Ron Newman.
A brief look at the four quarter-final series:
San Diego vs. St. Louis
Regular-season records: San Diego (36-12, First), St. Louis (23-25, Fourth)
Season series: San Diego leads 5-1.
Top three scorers: San Diego--Branko Segota (60 goals, 46 assists), Hugo Perez (41 goals, 25 assists), Jean Willrich (27 goals, 30 assists). St. Louis--Don Ebert (34 goals, 21 assists), Rick Davis (26 goals, 29 assists), Daryl Duran (23 goals, 21 assists)
Goalkeepers: San Diego--Jim Gorsek (19-2, 3.72 goals-against average) and Zoltan Toth (17-9 , 4.19) St. Louis--Slobo Ilijevski (19-16, 4.50) Ed Gettemeier (4-8, 5.09).
Outlook: The Steamers wish they had won their season series against Tacoma. St. Louis and Tacoma were both 23-25, but Tacoma won five of the six meetings between the teams, finished third and earned the right to not face the Sockers in the opening round.
This is a matchup between the two most penalized teams in the league. San Diego was penalized 168 times for 339 minutes, and St. Louis was penalized 163 times for 329 minutes.
In their six meetings this season, the Sockers outscored the Steamers, 48-29. The Steamers' lone win was 6-5 in overtime in a game played in St. Louis Feb. 16.
And yes, the Sockers are 21-0 in home playoff games.
Wichita vs. Tacoma
Regular-season records: Wichita (27-21, First), Tacoma (23-25, Third)
Season series: Wichita leads 4-2.
Top three scorers: Wichita--Erik Rasmussen (67 goals, 41 assists), Chico Borja (33 goals, 41 assists), Kim Roentved (26 goals, 38 assists). Tacoma--Steve Zungul (55 goals, 60 assists), Preki (41 goals, 30 assists), Keith Furphy (33 goals, 28 assists).
Goalkeepers: Wichita--Jan Olesen (11-5, 3.72 average), Seamus McDonagh (16-16, 4.94). Tacoma--Peter Mowlik (7-3, 4.21), John Baretta (7-10, 5.35).
Outlook: The top two scorers in the league will square off. Zungul won his seventh indoor scoring title and sixth in the MISL with 115 points. He had 26 goals and 26 assists in 19 games for Tacoma and 29 goals and 34 assists in 27 games for the Sockers. Rasmussen led the league in goals with 67 and added 41 assists to finish with 108 points. The Stars can thank their midseason acquisitions for leading them into the playoffs. With Zungul, the Stars are 11-8 and 2-1 against Wichita. Without him, the Stars were 1-3 against Tacoma.
Cleveland vs. Baltimore
Regular-season records: Cleveland (27-21, First), Baltimore (24-24, Fourth)
Season series: Tied at 3 games. Each club has won its three home games.
Top three scorers: Cleveland--Craig Allen (50 goals, 31 assists), Ali Kazemaini (38 goals, 21 assists), Peter Ward (29 goals, 25 assists). Baltimore--Stan Stamenkovic (37 goals, 44 assists), Paul Kitson (22 goals, 20 assists), Tim Wittman (26 goals, 13 assists).
Goalkeepers: Cleveland-- Chris Vaccaro (19-14, 4.26 average). Baltimore--Keith Van Eron (14-10, 3.66 average, which led the league and broke the MISL record of 3.67 set by Ilijevski of St. Louis in 1983-84), Scott Manning (10-13, 4.62).
Outlook: These teams have met in the Eastern Division finals for the last three years, but this is the first time the Force has the home-field advantage. In their best-of-five series, Baltimore beat the Force 3-2 last season and in 1982-83 and 3-0 in 1983-84.
Minnesota vs. Dallas
Regular-season records: Minnesota (26-22, Second), Dallas (25-23, Third)
Season series: Tied at 3 games.
Top three scorers: Minnesota-- Thompson Usiyan (30 goals, 30 assists), Alan Willey (43 goals , 12 assists), David Byrne (26 goals, 25 assists). Dallas--Tatu (49 goals, 32 assists), Louie Nanchoff (37 goals, 18 assists) Pedro DeBrito (28 goals, 23 assists).
Goalkeepers: Minnesota-- Tino Letteri (24-15, 4.40 goals-against average). Dallas--Krys Sobieski (24-16, 4.42).
Outlook: Two durable goalkeepers who are used to winning will battle it out. Letteri and Sobieski tied for the league lead in victories with 24. Minnesota, the only team with a winning record against the Sockers this season (3-0), last season upset Wichita and Las Vegas before losing to the Sockers in a five-game semifinal series.
This is the first playoff appearance for the Sidekicks. Last season, in their first year, the Sidekicks were 12-36 and finished last in the Western Division.