SAN DIEGO-A dull playoff series? Three straight wins for the Sockers? The St. Louis Who?
To just about everyone’s surprise, the alleged mismatch in the opening game of the Major Indoor Soccer League quarterfinal playoff series between the Sockers and Steamers Thursday night in the San Diego Sports Arena resulted in a tense thriller.
Socker defender Gary Collier, of all people, lined a left-footer from the top of the circle with 3:29 to play in overtime to give the Sockers a 7-6 victory against the Steamers.
The Sockers are 22-0 in home playoff games and lead the best-of-five series, 1-0. Game 2 will be played in the Sports Arena Saturday night at 7:35. Collier was an unlikely hero. He had but four goals and two assists in 39 regular season games and hadn’t scored a point in five games against St. Louis this season.
“In overtime, defenders are just looking to keep the other team from scoring,” Collier said. “The ball just happened to come back to me and I hit it.”
St. Louis goalie Slobo Ilijevski said he was screened on Collier’s shot.
Interestingly, it was Collier who scored the goal last Saturday night against Dallas that enabled the Sockers to break the MISL season team goal-scoring mark of 302.
Also, the Sockers were 0-4 in overtime games this season and the Steamers were 5-4.
As Thursday night’s game proved, the statistics don’t mean a thing once the playoffs start.
“Perhaps everyone will listen to me now,” said Socker Coach Ron Newman. “I tell you the playoffs are different. They (Steamers) fought for every bloody ball. Even the ones on their bench.”
Willrich scored two goals and Ade Coker, Juli Veee, Hugo Perez, Quinn and Collier added one each for San Diego.
Ebert scored a hat trick and Rick Davis, Tony Bellinger and Bandovic added one each for the Steamers.
San Diego led, 2-0, after a dull first half. However, the teams scored six goals in a wild third quarter to make it 4-4 entering the final quarter.
Much to the shock of the 7,506 in attendance, Don Ebert scored at 3:23 of the final quarter to give the Steamers a 5-4 lead. Brian Quinn tied the game on a sinking right-footer 41 seconds later.
Willrich blasted a right-footer from the top of the circle at 7:45 to make it 6-5, but Bandovic tied the game with 4:33 to play.
San Diego entered the game with a 36-12 regular season mark, which was the best in the league. St. Louis was 23-25 and 1-5 against the Sockers.
Maybe that was part of the reason for the small crowd. The crowd was the Sockers’ smallest since Dec. 29, 1985, when they drew 7,266 against Tacoma.
It was their smallest playoff crowd ever. Previously, the smallest was 7,552 in the opening game of the playoff series against Kansas City April 24, 1985.
Thursday night, the Sockers opened the scoring at 3:02 of the first quarter on a right-footer by Willrich from the top of the circle. That was the highlight of the opening quarter.
San Diego made it 2-0 when Perez converted a centering pass from Segota with 1:44 to play in the first half. Perez made a quick move on Ilijevski and then slid a right-footer into the goal from inside the penalty area.
With 49 seconds elapsed in the third quarter, Ebert scored off a centering pass from Mark Frederickson to make it 2-1.
The Sockers countered on Coker’s deflection of a long shot by Clavijo. Coker set himself near the left post and redirected the bouncing ball.
After that score, the action picked up.
Ebert scored on a tap-in at 7:19 and Bellinger scored on a hard left-footer from the circle to tie the game with with 2:55 to play in the third quarter.
The scoring continued. Racing across the penalty area, Veee took a centering pass from Clavijo and scored on a right-footer high into the far corner.
San Diego’s 4-3 lead was only 22 seconds old when Davis tied it.
The defense-oriented Steamers had scored four goals in one quarter against a Socker team that led the MISL in fewest goals allowed this year.