There is a limit to how many times a team can tempt fate. Even the five-time indoor champion Sockers.
The Sockers had a golden opportunity to close out the Tacoma Stars on Tuesday night at home, but they lost by a goal.
San Diego was 7-0 in games in which it faced elimination, including victories over Kansas City in the fourth and fifth games of the opening round of the playoffs.
But the streak came to an end Thursday night at the Tacoma Dome.
The Tacoma Stars defeated the Sockers, 8-5, in the decisive seventh game of the Western Division finals. The Stars will face the Dallas Sidekicks in the Major Indoor Soccer League championship series.
And the Sockers will head home.
"It's been a long time since I lost anything," said Ron Newman, Socker coach. "I can't say it feels good."
Juli Veee--a member of four of the Socker championship teams--believed the team lost the series before Thursday night.
"If you can't put them away at home," Veee said, "you don't deserve to come back with freak accidents. And if you want to be philosophical about it, we lost it in the middle of the season. When you're losing one-goal games, overtime games and the home-field advantage."
The Stars finished first in the Western Division to earn the home field for Thursday's seventh game. The Sockers finished third.
"They're the better team," said Socker defender Kevin Crow. "Through the season and in the playoffs."
Although a Socker streak ended, Star forward Steve Zungul has a chance to continue one of his own. All five times Zungul has played a full season with an MISL club, that team has won the title. He won four titles with the New York Arrows (1978-79 through 1981-82) and one with the Sockers in 1984-85.
Then came Zungul's sale to Tacoma during midseason last year. The Stars and the Sockers have never been the same since.
"As an ex-Socker, I'm happy they're down," Zungul said. "Since I left them, they haven't been the same. Now I finished them."
Ironically, Zungul was held scoreless Thursday for the first time in 30 playoff games.
Preki, who had been held to four goals in six games by the Sockers, had a hat trick Thursday. Gary Heale and Gerry Gray had two goals apiece and Ricky Davis added one.
Star goalkeeper Mike Dowler was brilliant, with 29 saves on 39 shots.
Branko Segota had three goals and Jean Willrich and Paul Dougherty added one each for the Sockers.
The Stars, who never trailed, led 2-1 after one quarter, 4-1 at halftime and 7-2 after three quarters.
Tacoma took a quick lead after only 1:58. Preki dribbled down the right wing, with defender Carlos Melian in front of him and Crow chasing him from behind, and lined a right-footer into the far corner of the net.
Only 1:14 later, Gray scored from inside the penalty area on a rebound of a shot by Godfrey Ingram. The Sockers' Willrich made it 2-1 on a left-footer from the top of the arc at 4:39 of the first quarter.
Heale scored on a rebound from the right of the post at 1:55 of the second quarter.
Trailing, 3-1, the Sockers had a flurry of shots on goal at the 10-minute mark of the second quarter, but Dowler was everywhere.
The Sockers had come back from two-goal halftime deficits in Games 1 and 5 in Tacoma, but a three-goal deficit is a different story.
Tacoma scored its fourth goal on a right-footer from a sharp angle in the left corner by Davis with three seconds left on the power play and 2:36 remaining in the half.
Preki made it 5-1 on a header at 5:33 and 6-1 on a 3-on-1 break at 8:03 of the third quarter. Segota and Heale traded goals and the Stars led, 7-2, going into the final quarter.
After the Sockers inserted a sixth attacker with 8:07 left, Segota and Paul Dougherty scored to make it 7-4 with 6:09 to play. Segota scored on a penalty kick with 1:45 to play, but the game had already been decided. When Gray scored an empty-net goal at 12:31, it was really over.
"All the teams in the league will appreciate our effort," Zungul said. "It will give someone else a chance to win a championship."