Compliments Get Sockers Nowhere With Strikers, 7-2

Times Staff Writer

Being compared to the Sockers is the ultimate compliment an indoor soccer team can receive.

"They play like we used to play," Socker midfielder Jean Willrich said.

After the Sockers were crushed by the Strikers, 7-2, in front of a standing-room-only club record 15,756 fans Friday night at the Met Center, Socker Coach Ron Newman was even more emphatic.

"At the moment," Newman said, "I would say they are a better side than us. We can't match their speed or aggressiveness . . .

"They seem to want it more. Maybe we've won too often. I saw some frustration, but also a lack of commitment on our part."

By easily defeating the Sockers for the second game in a row, the Strikers took a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven Major Indoor Soccer League championship series. In Game 2, Minnesota beat the Sockers, 6-1.

This is the first time the four-time indoor champion Sockers have ever trailed in a playoff series. The Strikers, 11-0 in home playoff games, can capture the series by winning their remaining two home games. Game 4 is Sunday night at the Met Center.

"There comes a coffin time," said Socker midfielder Juli Veee, who played on three of the Sockers' four championship teams. "They're hungry and they have new blood. If we don't win Sunday, I think it's over."

On Friday night, the Strikers dictated play after racing to a 2-0 lead on goals by Alan Willey early in the first quarter.

The first goal came after Socker midfielder Brian Quinn hit teammate Brian Schmetzer in the back with a pass deep in his own end. That was an omen.

"Nothing was going our way," Socker goalkeeper Jim Gorsek said.

Fifty-seven seconds after his first goal, Willey scored off a rebound.

"We didn't come out with the right aggressiveness and we weren't on our toes," Newman said. Willey added two power play goals in the second quarter to make it Willey 4, Sockers 0.

"We seem to be getting the breaks," Willey said, "but the last two games we wanted it more than them."

The Sockers set a MISL single-season scoring record with 308 goals, but they have managed just three goals in the last two games against Minnesota's stingy defense.

Socker midfielder Branko Segota returned to the lineup after missing the first two games of the series with a bruised left calf. But San Diego's leading scorer was not the finisher he usually is.

Striker goalkeeper Tino Lettieri stopped Segota twice on breakaway opportunities, and Segota missed a three-foot left-footer.

"I was still worried about it (the calf)," Segota said. "It was in the back of my mind, and I just couldn't find the handle."

Neither could midfielder Hugo Perez, who played with a bandage on his right eyelid. Perez suffered a scratched right cornea in the first quarter of Game 2 and missed the remainder of the game.

Perez played Friday night, but the Sockers' second-leading scorer was in considerable pain and was not the offensive force he usually is.

"The eye was killing me," Perez said. "It's hard to play like that. The eye is not well. When I'm running forward, the wind gets in the eyelid and it starts to burn. I had no vision to the side."

The Socker offense was out of sync and the Striker defense was at best.

"Credit our players who have learned their lessons well," Striker Coach Alan Merrick said. "Up until a year ago, our players thought a tackle was something you took fishing.

"Tonight, defenders Dwight Lodeweges and Gary Etherington were making tackles and blocking shots. The forwards were even blocking shots."

The Sockers had one offensive spurt in the game, but they came up empty.

Trailing, 4-1, at the 10-minute mark of the third quarter, the Sockers had five excellent scoring opportunities within a three-minute span.

Shots by Willrich and Perez hit the post, a blast by Quinn hit the crossbar, Segota missed a tap-in, and Lettieri made an excellent save on Segota.

It was only one of many excellent plays for Lettieri, who made 18 saves on 36 shots.

"He was magnificent," Veee said.

Lettieri was also an inspiration to his teammates and a coach on the field.

"I've talked to a lot of our guys with big tempers," Lettieri said. "I told them that the Sockers take a lot of cheap shots. We'd love to go in and smack their faces."

However, the Strikers have showed restraint. They allowed the Sockers to pick up seven penalties for the second game in a row.

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