Defense and discipline. And who's the starting goalkeeper?
Those were the primary topics of conversation on the Sockers' flight from San Diego to Kansas City Tuesday.
"Defense and discipline are the two key things we must have tomorrow," Socker captain Jean Willrich said Tuesday. "Everyone must drop back on defense. We can't give them any open shots. They can kick too. It's not a bowling team we're playing against."
Tied at two games apiece in the opening round of their Major Indoor Soccer League playoff series, the Sockers face the Kansas City Comets in a decisive fifth game at 5:35 tonight at Kemper Arena.
The five-time indoor champion Sockers avoided elimination with a 5-2 victory over the Comets Sunday night at the San Diego Sports Arena. Over the years, San Diego is 6-0 when facing elimination.
On Tuesday, the Sockers wore their game faces.
"This is a do-or-die situation and these guys know it," goalkeeper Jim Gorsek said. "When the pressure is on, we react."
Gorsek might be reacting from the bench tonight. Socker Coach Ron Newman said Tuesday that he is leaning toward starting Zoltan Toth in goal, even though it is Gorsek's regular turn to start.
"I will still reserve that decision until Wednesday," Newman said. "But after a performance like Zoltan had Sunday, and with the success he's had against them (Comets), I would lean that way. But until I talk to the goalkeepers, I wouldn't want to make a final decision. Psychologically, it might be a plus for Zoalie to be in there."
Toth had an excellent game Sunday against the Comets, making 10 saves on 25 shots and giving his teammates a big boost with some spectacular saves early in the game. Despite allowing four goals in a 5-1 defeat in Game 2, Toth played well and kept the Sockers in the game.
"Zoalie's the hot 'keeper now," Socker defender Kevin Crow said. "Nothing against Jimmy, but you have to go with your hot one. There's no tomorrow. What a goalkeeper does, when he's hot like Zoalie, is give everyone on the field confidence."
In addition to his performance Sunday, Toth also has a 10-1 lifetime record against the Comets. And there is no team in the league that he would rather beat.
Toth still blames Kansas City majority owner David Schoenstadt for breaking up the New York Arrows dynasty--a team which Toth won MISL championships with in 1980-81 and '81-82. Schoenstadt owned the Arrows when they folded after the 1983-84 season. Toth signed with the Sockers as a free agent in 1984.
Now, Schoenstadt's team will try to put an end to the Sockers' dynasty.
"Of course, I'd be happy to start," Toth said. "I like it when there is pressure."
As for beating Schoenstadt's team, Toth said: "I saw him in Kansas City, but never said a word."
Gorsek was not at a loss for words when asked about possibly not starting tonight's fifth game.
"I didn't even know he (Newman) was leaning toward Zoalie until you just told me," Gorsek said. "But nothing surprises me . . .
"That's his (Newman's) decision. If he wants to start Zoalie, he'll start Zoalie. I can't make the decision. It's my turn to play. I want to go out and play."
And Gorsek might play even if Toth starts. If Toth is struggling or the Comets score a few quick goals, Newman said he would not hesitate to change goalkeepers. Gorsek and Toth have both played in the same game six times this season.
Except when necessitated by injuries, this would be the first time Newman has altered the starting goalkeeper rotation since the playoffs in 1984-85.
Gorsek (7-1 with a 2.44 goals-against average in the 1984-85 playoffs) played in Game 4 of the semifinal series against Minnesota. That was the infamous shootout game which the Sockers thought they had won on the field, but later lost when former MISL Commissioner Francis Dale ruled the next day that Jacques Ladouceur was an ineligible shooter in the shootout. Gorsek came back to shut out the Strikers, 7-0, in Game 5.
In the best-of-seven championship series against Baltimore that season, Gorsek played both the fourth (a 14-2 victory) and the fifth games. The Sockers clinched the title with a 5-3 win in Game 5.
This season, the roles are reversed.
Gorsek made numerous key saves in Game 1 (a 5-4 overtime victory), but allowed seven goals in the Sockers' 9-7 loss last Tuesday night.
"I've replayed it goal-by-goal," Gorsek said. "Every goalkeeper goes through a situation like that. Looking at game films, I didn't think I played that bad. There's not much I could have done about those goals."
The Comets led the league in scoring during the regular season with 271 goals. And when they get open shots, like they did in the second half last Tuesday, they are tough to stop.
Which brings us back to defense and discipline.
"When we want to play and we play total team defense," Gorsek said, "our offense will take care of itself. We're too good of a team to hold down for long."
Socker Notes MISL Commissioner Bill Kentling said the proposed $1,000 bonuses to each Socker if the team won Game 5 are illegal because league regulations preclude teams offering per-game incentives. Such bonuses would also violate the league's salary cap. The bonuses were offered as a reward by Sports Arena operator Vince Ciruzzi and Hollywood Pizza owner Sal Busalcchi, both of whom are Socker supporters. Kentling said the Sockers will not be fined. "I'm convinced that the San Diego ownership and management had nothing to do with it," Kentling said. "They've been instructed to inform those two parties that should they go through with it, there would be a minimum fine of $25,000 to the Sockers. I also told (Sockers owner) Bob (Bell) that I didn't want anyone being clever with it." Earlier this season, the Tacoma Stars were fined $25,000 for offering per-game bonuses. . . . Kentling also said that, upon request by the Comets, he will review a tape of Sunday's game and rule whether Socker midfielder Brian Quinn--who received a red card for violent conduct and was ejected from Sunday's game--should receive an additional penalty. "The alternatives are nothing, an additional fine, suspension or additional fine and suspension," Kentling said. The red card carries an automatic $100 fine. Kentling, attending the Force-Striker game in Cleveland Tuesday night, said he will review the tape in Kansas City today and make a ruling before tonight's game. Quinn's description of the play: "I closed (Jan) Goossens down. I had good position. I had my back to him. He kicked me. I cleared the ball and swung around. No contact was made." Referee Marty Templin ejected Quinn for allegedly taking a swing at Goossens. "It's another situation where he (the referee) obviously didn't see the first foul," Quinn said.