You could see the Sockers' offensive slump coming from three games away. But nobody--especially the Sockers--expected them to hit an all-time low.
That's exactly what happened Saturday night as the Sockers suffered the first shutout in their eight-year history, a 3-0 loss to the Dallas Sidekicks in front of 9,277 at Reunion Arena.
San Diego, which entered the game averaging a league-leading 4.5 goals per game, had been struggling offensively since a 12-goal outburst against Wichita Nov. 27. In their previous two games, the Sockers had managed only four goals, including Friday night's 3-2 win over Cleveland.
"Dallas just out-hustled us and pushed us around all night," Socker Coach Ron Newman said. "I knew the shutout had to come sooner or later, and it's not that big of a blow. They were desperate to win tonight, and we tried to win while playing only three-quarters speed."
San Diego (7-5), which has a half-game lead over Tacoma in the Western Division, fell behind, 2-0, in the first quarter on goals by Willie Molano and Victor Moreland.
Molano, on an assist from Mike Powers, sent a right-footer over goalie Jim Gorsek's head at the 7:18 mark. Powers then lofted a give-and-go pass off the boards that Moreland knocked in after a deflection off defender Gus Mokalis.
The deficit increased to 3-0 by halftime as Doc Lawson scored late in the second quarter.
The jet-lagged Sockers might not have scored if the game had been allowed to go on indefinitely. Dallas goalie Joe Papaleo faced only nine shots--two with decent scoring chances-- for his first career shutout. It was the second in the Sidekicks' four-year history.
"I think it was more of a team shutout than an indication of how I played," Papaleo said. "I only faced a couple of tough shots. I think San Diego was a little tired, and our defense was aggressive all night."
That combination--Dallas' six-day layoff and San Diego's back-to-back games--produced the Sockers' worst offensive performance in 337 franchise games.
"We just never got into a flow," Branko Segota said. "Dallas really came out aggressively and took us out of our game plan."
Hugo Perez's right-footed shot early in the opening quarter bounced off the left post. The Sockers' only other scoring threat came midway through the fourth when Segota threaded a right-footer through two Dallas defenders, only to have Papaleo make a diving stop.
San Diego failed on its only power play and also struggled with a sixth attacker in the final 5:47. Fernando Clavijo and Perez had to make field-long sprints to prevent two more Dallas goals.
But the Sockers, who had outscored opponents, 50-29, entering the game, are not about to push the panic button.
"I just think we need to move the ball quicker," Newman said. "We're not getting any convenient bounces right now, and we're thinking too much. We need to be more instinctive. We were a little tired and we were out-played tonight. I'm a little concerned, but it's not time to panic."