Zungul, the Star of Stars, Back for an Encore, of Sorts
Steve Zungul was a Socker. . . . Keith Furphy played for the Kansas City Comets. . . . Peter Mowlik was on the Pittsburgh Spirit roster. . . . Alan Hinton was a coach without a team.
And Tacoma Stars President John Best was on the telephone trying to drum up a deal.
The Stars were in fifth place in the Western Division of the Major Indoor Soccer League, floundering at the gate and coming off a 12-game stretch in which they averaged only two goals a game.
Best felt he needed a proven goal scorer who could also inspire the team and attract fans. He needed a Zungul.
For approximately $200,000, Best bought Zungul from the Sockers Feb. 6.
“He’s a great player and a great man and he brought in a winning attitude,” said Star Coach Alan Hinton, who replaced Bob McNab as coach just two games before Zungul arrived.
Furphy was acquired from Kansas City for Dale Mitchell one day after the Stars bought Zungul. Mowlik was bought 15 minutes before the March 2 trading deadline to replace Mike Dowler, who was lost for the season when he required knee surgery.
And now the Stars are about to begin a five-game series with the Sockers for the Western Division title. Game 1 is at 7:35 tonight at the Sports Arena.
Under Hinton and with Zungul, the Stars were more aggressive. They averaged three goals a game without Zungul and five a game with him.
Tacoma was 12-9 in the regular season under Hinton and 11-8 with Zungul to finish third in the Western Division. Zungul led the league in scoring with 55 goals and 60 assists for 115 points (26 goals and 26 assists in 19 games for Tacoma), Furphy had 11 goals and 11 assists in 19 games and Mowlik was 7-3 with a 4.21 goals-against average.
In the opening round of the playoffs, Tacoma upset the Wichita Wings, three games to one. The Stars, who were 23-25 during the regular season, won three straight one-goal games after losing the opener, 6-5, in Wichita.
Zungul, the all-time MISL playoff scoring leader, had just two goals and five assists, but his presence opened up the offense for his teammates. Preki had four goals and four assists and Fran O’Brien scored the game-winning goals in the last two games.
Next up for the Stars are the Sockers, who are attempting to win their fifth straight indoor title.
The Sockers defeated the St. Louis Steamers, three games to one, in their playoff series to set up a reunion with Zungul.
“If my team wants to listen and be disciplined,” said Zungul, “we can give a good game to the San Diego Sockers. We’re underdogs, but we’re not out. “
Zungul said it took approximately 10 games before he felt comfortable playing with the Stars. He went from being a star among stars with the Sockers to being The Man in Tacoma.
“It was a very hard adjustment,” Zungul said. “I had to turn a losing team into a winning team. I had to play much harder and sometimes had to pull for two or three guys until they started to follow me. Some of the players are professional and some will never be professional. I had to teach and show them.”
Zungul was the leader on the Sockers. And he quickly became the leader of the Stars.
“I think he intimidated a few players at first,” said Hinton, “but it didn’t take long for the players to respect him.”
“I had to give them a little poke,” Zungul said. “Then they got to like my ideas. I opened their eyes to the consistency of winning.”
Zungul has a way of making believers out of his teammates. Ask Socker midfielder Branko Segota, who has been deemed the next Zungul by Zungul.
“Steve fights like hell and never gives an inch,” Segota said. “The biggest thing I learned from playing with him is to always give 100%. To never give up and always be really competitive. . . . Steve also taught me that if one one part of your game isn’t working, change it.”
The battle between Zungul and Segota--friends, former teammates and the No. 1 and No. 3 scorers in the MISL this season--will be an interesting sidelight to the series.
“But remember,” Segota said, “we’re in different situations. He turned them around, but player by player, I have more to work with. With the right players, he can be dominant. But at 32 (he will be 32 on July 28), he needs a little more help. It’s hard to put everything on his shoulders.”
San Diego was 5-1 against Tacoma this season and 2-1 after Zungul became a Star. The Sockers hold a 5-1 edge in games played at the Sports Arena, where they are 23-0 in the playoffs.
“The Sockers have the best team in the MISL by a long way,” Hinton said. “It’s the up-and-coming team from Tacoma coming to take on the giants. It’s a bit scary for us.”
Said Zungul: “My wish is for the series to go five games. That would be great for the fans. For this team, it will be a series to remember for a long time. For the Sockers, it is just another step to another championship.”