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Sockers’ Win Unusual Because It Didn’t Come Easy

Times Staff Writer

After most of their matches, the Sockers are hard-pressed to comment about why they won again without sounding too egotistical. It’s tough to continually say, “It’s because we are the best.”

And Socker opponents usually find it tedious to come up with yet another reason for San Diego’s dominance.

However, there was nothing forced about what was being said after the Sockers’ 7-6 overtime victory against St. Louis in the opening game of the Major Indoor Soccer League quarterfinal series Thursday night at the Sports Arena.

In a see-saw game, the Sockers finally won on a left-footer by a most unlikely offensive hero, defender Gary Collier.

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It was a memorable game that elicited emotional responses by San Diego and St. Louis players.

“It’s one of the best games we’ve played,” said Steamer goalkeeper Slobo Ilijevski, who was magic throughout the game and brilliant during the overtime period. “The whole team played unbelieveable. Every position gave 150%.”

Said Socker midfielder Brain Quinn: “We were lucky to get away with it (the win). In the end, we were relieved. We escaped by the skin of our teeth.”

Teammate Jean Willrich agreed.

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“We just played well enough to win,” Willrich said. “We made some mental mistakes, and we were not quick in our minds. They played as good as they can.”

The questions are: Did the Steamers expend themselves emotionally in their fantastic effort Thursday night? Did the Sockers get a much-needed scare after cruising through the regular season with a 36-12 mark?

“After that game,” Socker defender George Katakalidis said, “they (Steamers) might feel that if they play just a little harder and better, they will win. The question is whether they can. One thing is for sure: We can perform better.”

Steamer Coach Pat McBride said he spent Friday morning mentally replaying the left-footer by Jeff Cacciatore that hit the upright and the header by Don Ebert that just missed. Both shots would have won the game for the Steamers in the overtime period.

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“The loss was real disappointing,” McBride said. “The players played a strong 71 minutes and gave everything they had, and we had good chances.”

Said Ilijevski: “We showed them we are a team that will not give up. We know we can beat them, and we’re all up for tomorrow. We can’t wait for the rematch.”

One thing is certain: It will be difficult for tonight’s second game of the series to match Thursday’s game in intensity or excitement.

“The fans had to be drained after that game,” said Katakalidis, who took on the role of cheerleader when the Steamers took a 5-4 lead in the final quarter. Like the Padres’ Garry Templeton in the 1984 National League championship series against the Chicago Cubs, Katakalidis said he was inspired to take control.

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“It was a spur-of-the-moment emotional thing,” Katakalidis said. “The crowd was in a bit of a shock and was real quiet when they took the lead. Those guys weren’t supposed to be winning. I said to myself, ‘Come on.’ The next thing you know, the fans got really riled. I think they played a major role in our victory.”

There weren’t that many of them, but they sure got loud in the final quarter and overtime period. Only 7,506 fans, the smallest crowd ever at a Socker home playoff game, saw the Sockers improve their playoff record at the Sports Arena to 22-0.

“The 7,000 fans were magnificent,” Willrich said. “I have to give them a lot of credit. They got the team going. But I hope we have a bigger crowd Saturday.”

Willrich was just getting warmed up.

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“What the hell is going on with San Diego?” Willrich said. “The Padres have 158 more games and the people want to watch them on TV. That’s why they don’t deserve a basketball team here.

“This is a playoff game. If our franchise was some place else, they would kick the roof down to see our team. Where are the people? I can’t understand it. It’s ridiculous. I want to tell the fans, ‘Please support the Sockers or they might lose their franchise.’ ”

Soccer Notes

The Pittsburgh Spirit announced Friday that they have ceased operations. Owner Edward J. DeBartolo said he has lost about $9 million running the Spirit during the last five years, including $2.4 million this past season. DeBartolo also owns the Pittsburgh Penguins of the National Hockey League, the San Francisco 49ers of the NFL and operates the Civic Arena in Pittsburgh. The Spirit (23-25) missed the MISL playoffs for the second straight year and averaged about 8,000 fans this season. MISL Commissioner Francis Dale said he would try to help bring new ownership to Pittsburgh. New York, Boston or Cincinnati have been mentioned as possible sites for a new franchise next season. . . . The MISL and the individual teams in the MISL are suing the Federation of International Football Associations for $60 million for antitrust violations, said Bob Bell, Sockers general managing partner, Friday. “The main part is to get an injunction to stop them from interfering with the running of our league,” Bell said. “We are suing for damages to our league for the new rules they have implemented in indoor soccer. Obviously, they did that to damage us and control us. We are tired of getting pushed around.”

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