What a start. And what a finish.
The soccer game Saturday night began with spectacular frills and ended with a thrill.
With just 57 seconds gone by in sudden-death overtime, Socker midfielder Hugo Perez blasted a 25-footer from the left side past Striker goalkeeper Tino Lettieri and inside the right post to give the Sockers a 4-3 victory in front of a sell-out crowd of 12,884 in the San Diego Sports Arena.
"I faced (Alan) Willey and (Dwight) Lodeweges and I was watching Ade (Coker) to the outside," Perez said. "When Willey followed Ade, I saw the opening. I don't think Lettieri saw it (the ball). The only person who saw it was me."
And the celebration began.
"How many more games are there left?" Socker Coach Ron Newman joked after Saturday's victory. "That was like pulling teeth."
San Diego took a 2-0 halftime lead on second-quarter goals by Branko Segota and Raffaele Ruotolo.
Minnesota had only one shot on goal in the first half, but the Strikers scored twice within 24 seconds midway through the third quarter to tie the game, 2-2. Thompson Usiyan and Steve Kinsey scored.
Coker followed his own shot and put in a rebound to give the Sockers a 3-2 lead with 6:19 gone in the final quarter. Kinsey tied it at 3-all with 3:58 remaining.
And then came Perez' game-winner that capped a stirring season opener at the Sports Arena.
The evening began with a "Star Wars"-style pregame introduction that was even smokier and more celestial than usual.
That was followed by a championship ring ceremony that included Segota kissing managing general partner Bob Bell on each cheek when he accepted his ring.
Then came the unveiling of the 1985-86 Major Indoor Soccer League championship banner and the release of a plethora of blue and yellow balloons that turned the arena into a giant beach party.
By the time the game began 20 minutes after it was scheduled to, the fans had been standing and screaming for the equivalent of an quarter.
This pregame show will be tough to match.
Beams of light sprouting from spotlights in the parking lot welcomed fans to the Sports Arena. So did a "sold out" sign on the electronic billboard in front of the arena.
Parking-lot attendants and ticket takers wore white, gray or black tuxedos. Red carpets were laid out. If only the Clippers could have seen this show.
By 7:30, the place was buzzing with anticipation. The game was sold out at noon Saturday, giving the Sockers their first sellout for a home opener.
The fans were eager to greet their champions for the first time since the evening of May 26, when they defeated Minnesota in Game 7 of last year's championship series.
The lights were dimmed. Smoke (well, actually it was dry ice) came pouring out of the ceiling. The crowd went wild when Newman--carrying the 1985-86 championship trophy--came running out of the smoke-filled "O" in the Sockers' sign.
One by the one, the San Diego players were introduced. After the ring ceremony and unveiling of the championship banner, the Minnesota team--which had stayed away from the field during the introductions--was finally introduced.
"The introductions and everything made them play tougher," Segota said.
Just 51 regular season games to go.