Are they the Beachside Bullies or the Bullied Beachsiders?
No, they’re not punk bands playing in Mission Beach.
They are soccer’s version of the “Broad Street Bullies,” the rugged bunch of Philadelphia Flyers who led the National Hockey League in penalties during their reign as champions in the 1970s.
Meet the San Diego Sockers, who have added “physical” to their vocabularies and repertoires in quest of their fifth straight indoor soccer championship. They begin the Major Indoor Soccer League playoffs against the St. Louis Steamers at the Sports Arena tonight at 7:35.
Known for their wizardry with the ball and innovative strategic maneuvers, the Sockers have become registered guests in penalty boxes throughout the MISL.
Not only are the Sockers the first MISL team to lead the league in goals scored and penalty minutes, but they shattered league records in both categories.
After finishing a rather demure eighth in penalty minutes last season, the Sockers have set MISL records for most penalties, most penalty minutes and most penalties killed in one season. The Sockers’ penalty minutes jumped from 188 last season to 339 this season.
“Their forwards are a lot more aggressive this season, and Branko (Segota) and Hugo (Perez) are not frightened of anybody,” said Neil Megson, a Tacoma defender. “They have to look out for themselves. They are an aggressive team, but not a dirty one. If someone is going to kick you, you have to kick them back. Over 48 games, that adds up to a lot of penalty minutes.”
It would appear that Socker games are being played more physically by both sides. Their opponents’ penalty minutes are up from 224 to 274.
“Teams are playing us more physical,” said Socker midfielder Cha Cha Namdar. “So we have to play them physical. It’s the only way to survive in this league.”
The Sockers, St. Louis and Dallas Sidekicks are the three most penalized teams in the league and all qualified for the playoffs. St. Louis finished second in penalties and also broke the previous record.
Infractions are broken down into two categories, penalties and fouls. Penalties cause players to serve time, usually two minutes, in the penalty box, and fouls give possession to the other team.
According to the MISL rules, penalties are called for “serious fouls, delay of game, ungentlemanly conduct and violent conduct.” The severity of the foul is determined by whether it is thought to be intentional and the judgment of the referee.
There is sometimes a question who was ungentlemanly first.
“We get kicked all day,” Segota said. “When you get kicked constantly, you have to take matters in your own hands. You have to protect yourself. Sometimes you get so frustrated, you have to retaliate. If they called the first foul, it (retaliation) wouldn’t happen. I still have bruises from guys who kick me, and they don’t have nearly as many penalty minutes as I do.”
What does referee Toros Kibritjian, one of three full-time referees employed by the MISL, have to say about that?
“Branko is one of the best players there is,” Kibritjian said. “He gets penalties because everyone picks on him and he retaliates. Lots of players on the other team foul him, he gets very upset and commits a penalty.”
Kibritjian says he will call a foul when an “attacking player has no chance of scoring or is just pushing someone. And I call a penalty when there is a goal-scoring opportunity. Boarding is always a penalty.”
By his admission, Segota is very physical and not exactly a peacemaker on the field. He takes shots at the net and at opposing players, and he enjoys mixing it up near the boards.
MISL rules state that a player must miss his team’s next game when he reaches the 20-, 30- or 40-minute mark in penalty minutes. Segota, who has 30 penalty minutes, has missed two games because he reached 20 and 30 minutes. Brian Quinn, who led the MISL in penalty minutes with 38, also was forced to sit out two games. Perez has missed one game because he has 20 penalty minutes.
“To miss a game is a very drastic penalty,” Segota said. “It’s not fair and not right. Forwards are players fans want to see and we’re forced to sit out games.”
Quinn attributes the Sockers’ increase in penalty minutes this season to the performance of the referees.
“We haven’t set out to do any more damage this year,” Quinn said. “We always have been and will be a finesse team. We aren’t going to kick teams to win games. It’s just that the referees don’t give us the benefit of a doubt in close calls. It’s kind of disturbing when you can’t depend on referees.”
Said Kibritjian: “Brian is an extremely good player, but he is a very strong-willed player. The other night in Tacoma, he came charging dangerously down the field. I had to give him two minutes.”
San Diego Coach Ron Newman believes the referees have become whistle-happy this season, and often at the expense of his team.
“They (referees) feel happy calling more penalties,” Newman said. “They don’t want to be faced with another official asking them ‘How did you miss that?’ People often say the best referees are the ones who aren’t afraid to blow their whistle. That makes me afraid . . .
“Sure, I’m a little upset about all the penalty minutes we have. I’ll admit we’re sort of naughty when it comes to retaliating, but my theory is officials find it easier to make a call against us because we can afford it. We’re either several goals up in a game or several games up in the standings.”
Kibritjian: “We (referees) don’t care who is in first place or who is in last place. And that’s not a good excuse for them.
“They get penalties because they play very aggressively. Most teams are worried when they get five fouls. These guys (Sockers) just go out and play.”
It would seem all these penalties would eventually come back to haunt even a very talented team.
Not San Diego.
The Sockers were short-handed 148 times and allowed only 37 goals for a league-leading 75% penalty-killing percentage this season.
“We’re very comfortable with our penalty-killing situation and take a lot of pride in not letting goals in,” said Namdar, who plays with Quinn and defenders Kevin Crow and Fernando Clavijo on a unit nicknamed (by the Sockers) the “No Goal Patrol.”
The main objective of the “No Goal Patrol” is obviously to kill the penalty, but no Socker is going to be totally defensive in his style of play.
San Diego has scored 11 short-handed goals, tying the league record set by Pittsburgh in 1981-82 and equaled by St. Louis this season. Clavijo and Daryl Doran of St. Louis scored five short-handed goals this season, one short of the league record set by Paul Kitson of the Horizon in 1980-81. Quinn and Segota have two each and Namdar and Perez have one apiece.
With the Sockers, even negative statistics can turn into positive records.
PENALTY RECORDS HELD BY SOCKERS
Most penalties in a season: 168 (previous Major Indoor Soccer League record was 147 by the New York Arrows in 1983-84, St. Louis had 163 this season.)
Most penalty minutes in a season: 339 (previous record was 297 by the Arrows in 1983-84, St. Louis had 329 minutes this season)
Most penalties killed in a season: 111 (previous record was 86 by Pittsburgh in 1982-83)
Most short-handed goals by a team: 11 (tie: 1981-82 Pittsburgh team and St. Louis this season).