IT’S STILL A ZUNGUL OUT THERE : ‘Lord of All Indoors’ Continues to Make His Points With Sockers
When the little boy inside 34-year-old Steve Zungul gets loose, anything can happen.
He can be as wild as the thinning, disorganized hair on his head. Or he can whine like a youngster whose parents haven’t allowed him to go out and play.
Mostly, though, he can be as beautiful as a smiling 7-year-old when he’s controlling or shooting a soccer ball.
With Steve Zungul, you get the entire package.
You want a guy who has scored more goals and more points that any player in Major Indoor Soccer League history? A player voted the greatest of the league’s first decade?
OK. You’ve got him. But when he arrives, you had be better be ready to share your director’s chair with him . . . or to paint the star on his dressing room door a little bigger if he asks.
“More than just a few people have called Steve selfish and egotistical,” former New York Arrows goalkeeper Shep Messing once said.
They’ve also called him “The Lord of All Indoors.”
Turns out, that doesn’t just mean on a soccer field. When he was younger, Zungul’s indoor exploits took him to more than a disco or two.
He missed curfew as often as he scored goals, and he disobeyed coaches as frequently as the class clown disobeys the teacher.
Said Messing, relating a story of his first meeting with Zungul in New York: “Do you know what his first words to me were? ‘Show me Studio 54.’ ”
Zungul laughed: “That was all when I was younger. Now, I can’t do that anymore.”
But that kid is still in there.
So is the soccer player. Zungul isn’t ready to put either to rest. Like almost anyone else who has seen him play, Zungul remembers the accomplishments and accolades.
Six times the league’s Most Valuable Player. Eight times first-team All-MISL performer. Four times the playoff MVP. In all, there are 41 MISL records that Zungul either shares or holds.
Zungul has tried to put it behind him, but he can’t. Not yet, at least.
That’s why, before this season got under way, Zungul phoned the Sockers and asked to play.
His last team, the Tacoma Stars, got fed up with Zungul’s antics and wouldn’t re-sign him.
“When he first called us and said he wanted to play, we didn’t think it was such a good idea,” Socker Coach Ron Newman said. “But when said he’d play at any cost, we had to take a look at it.”
The cost issue certainly turned some heads. Here was the greatest player in the history of the indoor game saying he’d play for the minimum league salary of $24,000.
Juli Veee, the former Socker, said Zungul was like a beggar, down on his knees hoping somebody would help him.
Zungul said it was just his love for the game.
“I want to come and finish my career here (in San Diego) where I have all my fans and the players I love to play with,” Zungul said at the time. “The money is not the issue. I don’t care about the money. I just care about playing.”
Because of Zungul’s reputation, the Sockers didn’t jump at him. Newman and Sockers’ President Ron Cady went back and forth on the issue. One day, it seemed, they wanted Zungul. On another, they didn’t.
“We finally decided that if Stevie would come in and play for the minimum, it was just too good to pass up,” Newman said. “It was like he came and replaced the 16th or 17th best player on our team.”
As it turned out, the Sockers released 28-goal scorer Keder to make room.
“The negative,” Newman said, “is that maybe some youngster could have begun his career this year if Steve wasn’t here. But if you had the chance to trade one of your lowest players for the greatest player the game has ever known, you’d have to be crazy not to do it.”
Ah, but when Zungul arrived, many still said the Sockers were crazy.
So, who’s crazy now?
In his first 13 games with the Sockers, Zungul has scored 8 goals and added 5 assists. Two of his goals were game-winners, and he even recorded the 98th hat-trick of his career in a victory over Kansas City.
It seems he hasn’t performed badly.
“Everything has gone along kind of like I expected,” Zungul said. “I’ve been getting in better shape and playing with the team for a while now. I feel like I’m contributing pretty good.”
Ask Zungul if he’s unhappy about anything, however, and the little kid is back.
“Well, they need to give me more playing time,” he said.
And one night, he threw a tantrum. The Sockers had cruised past Kansas City, 5-1, and Newman had elected not to play his stars much in the fourth quarter when the game was in hand.
Said Zungul: “That’s when you can go out and have fun and entertain the fans. I wanted to be out there.”
Answered Newman: “The other players who don’t get to play as much deserve to play, too. He just can’t understand that.”
And so the relationship between Newman and Zungul continues to roll bumpily along.
“He’s always had trouble understanding the team concept of the game,” Newman said. “He’s always wanted to play offense and score goals. But a lot of times, it’s the team that helps him score those goals, and he doesn’t realize it.”
A lot of times, though, Zungul doesn’t need a team.
“He can be magic,” said teammate Branko Segota, second to Zungul on the MISL all-time list for goals scored, 639-347. “If they let him play, he’ll produce. He hasn’t forgotten how to play the game, that’s for sure.”
And Zungul hasn’t forgotten his relationship with Segota.
During the 1985 season, the two were torn apart when Bob Bell, then owner of the Sockers, was forced to sell Zungul to the Tacoma Stars for $200,000.
Zungul scored 115 goals in 2 1/2 seasons for the Stars, but he was unable to lead them to a championship. And try as he might, he couldn’t enjoy himself as much on the field without Segota.
“He and I have just always worked so well together,” Zungul said. “We always know what the other one is going to do. It’s the greatest.”
It wasn’t that way when Zungul first arrived back in San Diego this season.
Segota was hurt, still recovering from a pulled hamstring, and Zungul had to go it alone for a couple of games.
The Sockers lost 3 of 4, and Zungul really wasn’t playing very well.
But then Segota returned against Kansas City Dec. 17. Zungul got his hat trick, and the Sockers won, 8-6.
“I think he’s been happier ever since,” Segota said.
Said Zungul: “Hey, I know there are a lot of younger guys now. I’m like a sunset going down. But I can still have some fun out there, and I know I can still score goals.”
Zungul then said that this would probably be his final season.
Next year, the kid will have to find something else to do.
ZUNGUL, FOR THE RECORD Some of the MISL records held by Steve Zungul (all for regular season except where indicated): Most goals, game: 7, for New York Arrows in 1981 (shared with 3 others). Most goals, half: 5, four times for Arrows (shared with 2 others). Most goals, quarter: 4, for Arrows in 1980 (shared with 2 others). Most goals, season: 108, for Arrows in 1981-82. Most goals, career: 639, in nine-plus seasons. Most consecutive games scoring a goal: 26, for Arrows in both 1979-80 and 1980-81. Most game-winning goals, season: 15, for Arrows in 1980-81. Most game-winning goals, career: 75, in nine-plus seasons. Most power-play goals, career: 85, in nine-plus seasons. Fastest three goals: 37 seconds, for Arrows in 1982. Most 3-goal games, season: 20, for Arrows in both 1980-81 and 1981-82. Most 3-goal games, career: 98, in nine-plus seasons. Most assists, season: 68, for Sockers in 1984-85. Most assists, career: 443, in nine-plus seasons. Most points, season: 163, for Arrows in 1981-82. Most points, career: 1,082, in nine-plus seasons. Most consecutive games scoring a point: 76 for Arrows, over three seasons. All-time playoff points: 172 (103 goals, 69 assists in 63 games), over nine-plus seasons, 41 more than second place. Zungul also holds or shares 20 playoff records.