After a summer full of forks in the road and apparent dead ends, the Sockers return to action today with the franchise intact but different.
Just about four months after the Sockers swept the Cleveland Force for their sixth indoor title in seven years, they play their exhibition opener in Cincinnati today (4:30 p.m. PDT) against the Baltimore Blast.
Most of the bumps they encountered this past summer concerned money in one way or another. As a result, Socker management has had to yield some high-priced players who have gone elsewhere and been replaced.
Will different be better or worse? That can only be answered once the regular season begins next month. For now, one can only speculate whether the events of the summer will put a dent in the Sockers’ indoor invincibility.
“To be honest, I think that on paper, we may be even better than we were last year,” Coach Ron Newman said. “Of course, everybody else in the league’s going to better, too.”
That’s because a summer’s worth of league turmoil has ended with the number of MISL teams cut from 11 to 7. Franchises are gone from Chicago, Cleveland, St. Louis and Minnesota, and only the best players from each team are left, scattered to the remaining teams.
The Sockers need only to look up the freeway for an example. The Los Angeles Lazers now include former Sockers Waad Hirmez, Jim Gorsek and Fernando Clavijo.
“Hey, we lost a lot,” said Newman, who is also without Hugo Perez, Brian Schmetzer, Juli Veee, Gus Mokalis and Jacques Ladouceur. “But I think the fans will be surprised at the amount of new talent we picked up.”
Indeed, some of the newcomers seem imposing. But there’s always a question of whether they’ll fit in.
--To replace Perez and Veee up front, the Sockers signed Poli Garcia, a 50-goal scorer for St. Louis last year, and Alan Willey, who scored a career-high 45 for Minnesota.
--To replace Hirmez and Ladouceur in the midfield, the team picked up Chris Chueden from Los Angeles. He had 26 goals and 58 points last season, both career bests.
--To help ease the loss of Clavijo, Schmetzer and Mokalis on defense, there is Gary Etherington from Minnesota and Ralph Black from Tacoma.
“Etherington has speed like Fernando did,” Newman said. “Black used to beat us up physically. Now it’s good to have him on our side.”
For all it to work, though, the four returning players who form the cornerstone of the new-look team will have to come through.
Socker owner Ron Fowler and team President Ron Cady put an emphasis on re-signing four players--goalkeeper Zoltan Toth, defender Kevin Crow, midfielder Brian Quinn and forward Branko Segota.
Toth, Quinn and Crow are ready to play. Segota, Cady said, has agreed to a contract but hasn’t signed yet.
“We still have the nucleus of an outstanding team,” Newman said. “It’s just a matter of time to see whether it can come together again.
“We need Branko, and I’m counting on us having him. The way I look at it, he’ll be here.”
If he is, perhaps Newman can steer a straight course through the coming season.
The Sockers announced that all regular-season games will be carried on XTRA (690), with Randy Hahn returning for his fifth season of play-by-play. Bill Macdonald will be the color commentator. Fifteen games will be televised on Prime Ticket, and home games will be broadcast on XEXX (1420) in Spanish. . . . Kevin Crow, not expected in training camp until Monday, will arrive a day early to play in the Sockers’ outdoor exhibition against San Diego State Sunday night at 6 p.m. in Aztec Bowl. . . . The Sockers have added two exhibition games, Oct. 26 and 27 in Tacoma against the Stars.