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MOKALIS IS PLAYING A TRANSITION GAME AND STRUGGLING, FOR NOW

Times Staff Writer

Gus Mokalis has wanted to play with the Sockers for years. However, now that he has finally made it to San Diego, he is off to a rough start.

“I’m not very pleased with the way I’m playing,” said Mokalis, who was traded during the off-season from the Los Angeles Lazers for three draft picks.

“I know what they (his teammates) think. I know what I think. It’s not a big secret. I have enough experience to know I’m not playing to my potential.”

In the season-opening 5-3 loss in Wichita, Mokalis’ defensive lapse led to the goal that tied the score, 3-3. On the Sockers’ return trip to Wichita Nov. 25, Mokalis’ mistakes led to two Wing goals in a 3-2 loss, including Mark Kerlin’s game-winner in overtime. Mokalis also muffed a shot on a breakaway attempt. He has two assists and nine blocked shots in eight games as a Socker.

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“I have to be honest,” Socker Coach Ron Newman said. “I’m a little disappointed, but he showed a vast improvement in the last game (against Kansas City). He’s not played badly at times, but we’re looking for some really good games from him. We can’t put a finger on it. He looks a step slow and his confidence has started to go down.”

All this from a former Socker-killer who was an All-Star defender the past three seasons.

“He’s made a few mistakes that are uncharacteristic of him,” Socker defender Kevin Crow said. “I think it’s a matter of him feeling comfortable. It takes time.”

It also takes time to adjust.

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“It’s a different team, different style,” Mokalis said. “I just have to defend now. I help up front when I have to. I always had to go forward and create things in L.A. I miss that, but I don’t miss losing.”

In his five years with the Lazers, Mokalis was used primarily as a defender but also played midfield. Last year, Mokalis was the Lazer captain and led the defenders in scoring with 15 goals and 17 assists for 32 points. But the Lazers kept losing and failed to draw crowds or media attention in Los Angeles.

Last summer, Mokalis, 31, hoped for a trade to the five-time champion Sockers.

“I always wanted to come down here and play,” said Mokalis, who would have entered his option year with the Lazers this season.

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The Sockers signed him to a two-year contract.

“He’s very knowledgeable in the indoor game,” Newman said. “He reads the game really well and can finish. He can do it at both ends of the field, offensively and defensively.”

“He gives us more composure on the back line,” Crow said. “And in my opinion, he’s completed our defensive power play.”

Mokalis replaced Cha Cha Namdar, who was released before the season, on the penalty-killing unit. He joins Brian Quinn, Fernando Clavijo and Crow, who have killed off 15 of 19 penalties. Despite being an accomplished and experienced player, Mokalis said he isn’t surprised at how tough his adjustment to the Sockers has been.

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“I knew I’d have a difficult time,” Mokalis said. “It’s not easy to change atmosphere and style after playing a long time with the same team.”

Mokalis--whose given first name is Konstandinos--had to adjust to different styles of play when he made the transition from youth soccer in his native Hungary, which he left at 19, to play for Aris of the First Division in Greece. After playing with Aris for seven years from 1976-82, Mokalis came to the United States and took up the indoor game with the Lazers.

“I’m not sorry I left Hungary,” said Mokalis, who was a Greek citizen because his parents were Greek. “I’m not sorry I left Greece. I don’t think I’ll leave America.”

In addition to changing countries, Mokalis had to make the transition from being an offensive star in Hungary and Greece to playing defense in the offense-oriented Major Indoor Soccer League.

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Statistics aren’t available to document Mokalis’ goal-scoring prowess as a teen-ager in Hungary, but Socker goalkeeper Zoltan Toth sings the praises of his longtime friend. When they were both 18, Toth played against Mokalis in Hungary. Toth vividly remembers the confrontation.

“We had to have two players mark him,” Toth said. “He had an unbelievable volley shot. He was dangerous with his heading, too. He was an eagle in the air and was famous for his diving header. It was impossible to save a Gus Mokalis diving header.”

But that was the outdoor game. That was in Hungary. Times change and players have to change their games accordingly. Now the Sockers are hoping Mokalis will perform the way he did during his all-star seasons with Los Angeles.

“I’ll wait on Gus until I lose patience,” Newman said, “or he’ll improve and everything will be all right.”

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