The fifth one was the sweetest. And the most difficult to achieve.
The Sockers’ postgame championship trot around the field at the Sports Arena and the trophy looked familiar, but this title was different.
It was extra special.
This time, the Sockers were the underdogs. They were the ones fighting for their lives.
The Sockers won their third straight do-or-die game to win their fifth consecutive indoor championship Monday night at the San Diego Sports Arena.
A sellout crowd of 12,881 screaming fans saw the Sockers defeat the Minnesota Strikers, 5-3, to win the best-of-seven Major Indoor Soccer League championship series four games to three.
“This was probably the hardest,” said Socker Coach Ron Newman, who had just hugged his wife, Olive, during the postgame ceremonies at midfield.
“We Are the Champions” started blasting on the loud speaker. Again.
“This is definitely and without a doubt the sweetest of all,” said Socker forward Ade Coker, who has been on all five championship teams. “To come from 3-1 down (in games) has to say a lot for the character of the team.”
Accused of being whiners and complainers, the Sockers showed they also have a lot of heart. And in the final three games of the series, they were magical.
Socker midfielder Brian Quinn--as inspirational as he has been fiesty throughout the championship series--had two goals and an assist.
Quinn was awarded the playoff Most Valuable Player award. He had 13 goals and 10 assists in 15 playoff games and five goals and two assists in the championship series.
“This is the first thing I’ve ever won individually,” Quinn said. “I never had this much attention in my life. But it could have gone to five or six guys. We all realize how valuable everyone is. I love them all.”
A nonstop runner and fighter and scrapper, Quinn also had seven blocked shots. Most came while he played on the penalty-killing unit.
Quinn is consistently good at everything he does.
“He looks like he’s enjoying himself and he doesn’t seem to feel the pressure,” Newman said. “Quinnie just has great games and good games. And that’s great for the coach.”
In the championship series, Quinn also refused to let his teammates get too demoralized when the Sockers trailed three games to one.
“After we lost the fourth game in Minnesota,” Quinn said, “we looked at ourselves and realized there wasn’t enough intensity.”
Quinn continually told his teammates, “It isn’t over yet.”
The Sockers regrouped for a 7-4 victory in the fifth game in San Diego and a very emotional 6-3 victory Friday night at the Met Center that tied the series.
Entering Monday’s night Game 7, the Sockers were a confident, but injury-riddled team that had a 27-1 mark in home playoff games.
Captain Jean Willrich did not play much because of his strained right groin. Midfielder Hugo Perez and defender Brain Schmetzer also played with injuries.
Despite playing with a bruised left knee and ankle, Juli Veee took regular shifts and had two assists.
“It is a marvelous feeling,” Veee said. “It is very emotional. I am sad that Jean (Willrich) couldn’t play, but I am very happy for the young players.”
The Strikers were healthy, but also still were recovering from the disappointment of not wrapping up the series at home.
“Before the game,” said Socker defender Fernando Clavijo, “I saw that they were really down. When we scored those three goals, they really had no chance.”
San Diego led 1-0 after one quarter and 2-1 at halftime. The Sockers took control with two goals in the third quarter and another early in the final period to make it 4-1.
Socker goalkeeper Jim Gorsek made 20 saves on 46 shots. That’s right, the Sockers were outshot 46-22. Five San Diego penalties for 10 minutes was partly responsible.
“Gorsek was tremendous,” said Striker midfielder Ray Hudson.
So was the Socker offense on five occasions.
The Sockers won “One for the Thumb"--their rallying cry for a fifth championship ring.
This scoring recap is one for the scrapbook:
Sockers 1 Strikers 0: Quinn when he got the rebound of his own shot and lined a left-footed half volley from inside the penalty area at 7:08 of the first quarter. Coker got an assist.
The Sockers did what they said they had to do. They scored the first goal.
Sockers 1, Strikers 1: On Minnesota’s third power-play attempt of the half, Jan Goossens lined a 30-foot right-footer from the right wing at the eight-minute mark of the second quarter.
Scokers 2, Strikers 1: Big, big goal. Just 17 seconds after Goossens scored, Collier lined a low line drive past Lettieri. Collier took a pass from Veee and knocked the ball inside the left post. Assist Veee.
It was only the second goal of the playoffs for Collier, who scored the game-winner in the Sockers’ 7-6 overtime win against St. Louis in the opening game of the first round playoff series.
Sockers 3, Strikers 1: At 1:18 of the third quarter, Quinn and Branko Segota teamed up on a two-on-one break. Segota to Quinn to Segota, who placed a left-footer from the top of the circle past Lettieri. Assist Quinn. Momentum Sockers.
Sockers 4, Strikers 1: Gorsek threw a perfect outlet pass to Quinn at the second red line. Quinn took a few dribbles and slid a right-footer into the far corner of the net at 6:24 of the third quarter. Assist Gorsek.
The fans started to taste the championship.
Sockers 5, Strikers 1: Coker tapped a rebound in the net from in front of the goal. Assist Veee.
Postgame celebrations were being discussed in the stands.
Mike Jeffries and Thompson Usiyan scored for Minnesota within a two-minute span in the fourth quarter to make it 5-3 with 4:17 left in the game.
And in the season.
“Just another typical San Diego Socker season,” said smiling Socker defender Kevin Crow.
Maybe even a little sweeter.