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Katakalidis a Sparkplug for Sockers : Mild-Mannered Man Comes Out of His Shell for the MISL Playoffs

Times Staff Writer

He hasn’t scored a point in the playoffs, but Socker defender George Katakalidis sure has made a point with the San Diego fans.

Waving his fists in the air and racing around the field during timeouts, the normally placid and unnoticed defender has become a crowd rouser.

Katakalidis is to the Sockers what Garry Templeton was to the Padres during their National League championship series against the Cubs in 1984--an unsuspecting inspirational leader.

“It’s nothing premeditated,” Katakalidis said of his spontaneous bursts of emotion in the first home playoff games against St. Louis and Tacoma. “It just happens.

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“The other night I was getting into the game more and was frustrated with the referees because we were two players down. I hate to lose and I had to dig deep down inside.”

Wednesday night’s game was tied, 3-3, early in the third quarter and Tacoma had the momentum along with a two-man advantage.

When the players headed to the penalty box, Katakalidis turned into a cheerleader.

In the Socker media guide, Katakalidis is described as a “very quiet individual.”

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It might be time for some revisions.

Inspired by Katakalidis, a subdued crowd of 8,308 fans at the San Diego Sports Arena came to life Wednesday night.

“I’m not an inspirational leader like the San Diego Chicken,” Katakalidis said. “But I do have a rapport with the audience. And that’s what I like to do.”

It’s just that with the charismatic and talent-laden Sockers, the 24-year-old defender rarely has the opportunity to play center stage.

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“George has a magical personality,” said Socker Coach Ron Newman. “It’s just that like Gary Collier, he often disappears into oblivion on the field.” Call Katakalidis a closet charismatic. Not many people know what really lurks inside No. 19.

Until recently.

Buoyed by Katakalidis’ energy and enthusiasm Wednesday night, his teammates killed the penalties, scored two quick goals to take a 5-3 lead and went on to beat the Stars, 10-4.

Thanks to a player who is usually one of the quietest members of the team, the fans were never quiet again.

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“I know it was not part of my character,” Katakalidis said. “I love to keep quiet. I’m usually the man behind the scenes.

“I’m the type of player Juli Veee would call a dog. Yet, there are a lot of dogs that bark. I don’t bark, but I sure bite.

“During the playoffs, we all have to be dogs and work as a pack. There are many different kinds of dogs, and we all have roles to play.” Katakalidis uses his quickness and keen sense of anticipation to steal passes, block shots and upset the rhythm of another team’s offense.

He knows his role and accepts it, but also is sometimes frustrated by the limitations of it.

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He had seven goals and eight assists for a career-high 15 points this season. Midfielder Branko Segota gets that many points in four games.

Katakalidis only took 21 shots in 43 games. Of the regulars, only defenders Brain Schmetzer and Collier took fewer shots.

“At first, I got down on myself,” Katakalidis said. “Pride wise, it hurts a little because you don’t get the recognition from the fans and media. It’s easy to say someone had a great game because he had points.

“But I realized that I have to stay back and cover. I have to worry about the whole picture and that means winning.”

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Katakalidis has won. He won Major Indoor Soccer League championships with the New York Arrows in 1980-81 and 1981-82. After being purchased by the Sockers from the Golden Bay Earthquakes on Oct. 2, 1984, Katakalidis won the MISL title with San Diego last season.

With the Sockers leading the Stars, 1-0, in their best-of-five Western Division final series, another title may be on its way.

“I would love to play in the midfield more,” said Katakalidis, who was a center forward at Monarch Park High in Toronto. “But I have always played on such good teams that it wasn’t possible for me to play the position I wanted to. I know I can be a very good defender, but sometimes it’s not challenging enough.”

Katakalidis--who learned English within a year after moving from Greece to Toronto when he was 7 --thrives on challenges.

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“I do not want to be static,” Katakalidis said. “Once I reach a plateau, I’ll move on. If I’ve reached my peak in soccer, I’ll call it quits.”

That may not sound like a 24-year old professional athlete talking, but then again, Katakalidis isn’t like most 24-year-olds.

A high school graduate who became a professional soccer player at 17, Katakalidis is getting his business degree through a college correspondence school.

Some players relax on the road by playing cards. Katakalidis reads his textbooks while taking long baths. He also studied for his real estate license test, which he passed recently. Katakalidis, a Canadian citizen, has lived in Toronto and New York and has toured Europe while serving as captain of the Canadian National Youth team.

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“I once read that the only way you can appreciate life is if you are educated in that area,” Katakalidis said.

He learned a greater appreciation of the business of running a team when he volunteered to work in the Sockers’ office selling season tickets over the phone during the off-season last year.

“I did well and enjoyed it,” Katakalidis said. “During some of my conversations, I tried to explain to a lot of the fans that we have a lot more abilities than just playing soccer.”

He has made a number of points without the red light ever going on. Just ask the fans at last Wednesday night’s game.

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