The jinx has been diminished. And the stranglehold on second place is a little looser.
Those are the results of the Sockers’ 5-3 loss to the Dallas Sidekicks before 6,868 at Reunion Arena Thursday night.
The defending Major Indoor Soccer League champions came to Dallas with a two-game lead on the slumping, third-place Sidekicks, who had dropped their past three and 13 of 19. Add to that a 17-4 all-time record against Dallas, 5-1 this year, and the Sockers seemed to have a right to be confident.
But after Paul Dougherty completed the Sockers’ comeback from a 2-0 deficit by tying the score, 2-2, with 7:22 remaining, the Sockers wilted. Dallas scored three consecutive goals to earn its second consecutive victory over San Diego at Reunion Arena.
“We’ve had a habit of relaxing after goals all year, and it bit us again tonight,” Socker Coach Ron Newman said. “I thought we were in good shape at 2-2, but I look up and bam, we’re down again.”
The “bam” was Richard Chinapoo’s steal and score 14 seconds after Dougherty’s equalizer. And when the Sockers pulled goalie Victor Nogueira for a sixth attacker with 3:24 remaining, Kevin Smith and Tatu made them pay with open-net goals.
Chris Chueden scored late for the Sockers.
“This game had a playoff atmosphere, and we didn’t respond well,” Dougherty said. “Dallas came out aggressively, and we didn’t match their effort until the second half. Then, once we finally tied it, we let down again. You can’t do that against a good side like Dallas.”
The Sockers, who played without Branko Segota (pulled hamstring) and fell to 0-6 on the road when playing a second game on back-to-back nights, are now 21-19, one game better than Dallas’ 19-19 with eight games remaining.
“It’s time to stop talking about the playoffs and start playing like we deserve to be in them,” Newman said.
Said Sidekick Coach Billy Phillips: “We approached this like a playoff game. We took the attitude that if we win all of our games at home, we’ll make the playoffs. Tonight we came out very inspired. We took it to them.”
The Sidekicks increased their record to 19-1 when scoring four or more goals. “We played a good first half, but they were right in it,” said Tatu, who scored twice. “They came at us hard in the second half, but we responded well. This is a big game for us confidence-wise.”
The Sidekicks opened a 2-0 lead late in the third quarter on Tatu’s 24th goal of the season. After looking powerless on three power plays, Dallas scored on the fourth when Jorge Acosta nailed a left-footer at Nogueira. He stopped the shot, but the rebound caromed in front of the net, where Tatu put in an easy left-footer.
But on the Sockers’ next possession, Steve Zungul surprised Dallas with a quick re-start. Alan Willey took his pass in the box and hit a header that goalie Krys Sobieski couldn’t stop despite getting both hands on it. The score came just 13 seconds after Tatu’s.
Dallas played one its best, most aggressive halves of the season but managed only a 1-0 lead after 30 minutes.
The Sidekicks outshot the Sockers, 27-7, and took the lead on Michael King’s rocket left-footer from just inside the red-line with 8:16 remaining in the first quarter. The lead could have quickly grown, but the Sockers, the MISL’s leading penalty-killers, squelched three Sidekick power plays, and Nogueira made 12 first-half saves, including point-blank stops on Tatu, Doc Lawson and Bruno Ferretti.