For most of their history, putting the Sockers at a disadvantage has been the equivalent of lighting a fire under them.
It happened again Saturday night at the Baltimore Arena, where the Sockers staved off almost certain elimination from the MISL regular-season race with a workmanlike, 7-1 victory over the first-place Blast (25-14).
Minus their top two scorers--Branko Segota and Zoran Karic--the second-place Sockers (22-19) got four goals from Paul Dougherty to end a two-game losing streak and stall the Blast’s magic number for clinching the regular-season title at four.
“I told the lads at the team meeting before the game that they had no chance of winning,” Socker Coach Ron Newman said. “I told them they weren’t quick enough, that they weren’t competent enough. I guess they didn’t like what I said.”
Apparently not. The Sockers spotted the Blast a quick 1-0 lead, then roared back with seven unanswered goals, including four in the fourth quarter. After losing the first five games of the season series to the Blast, the Sockers have won two in a row.
Segota missed his second consecutive game with a strained right hamstring, and Karic was serving a one-game suspension after getting his second red card of the season Thursday in a 4-3 loss to Dallas. But Dougherty, virtually invisible in the Sockers’ offense after scoring 42 goals in two seasons, was one player who seemed to have paid attention to Newman’s pregame tirade.
Dougherty broke out of his season-long slump with the second four-goal game of his career and easily his best game of the season.
“Paul’s had a tough year,” Newman said. “He’s not playing badly; he’s just not getting the results. But he’s stuck with it.”
Dougherty and the rest of the Socker midfield not only accounted for the bulk of the offense but disrupted the Blast’s patient and deliberate attack, taking the league-leaders out of the game early.
“We tried to slow everything down when we didn’t have the ball,” Newman said.
Newman said that he shied away from putting pressure on his team by casting the Sockers in a do-or-die situation. A Baltimore victory would have reduced the magic number for clinching the regular-season title to two.
“We’re not looking for the championship anymore,” Newman said. “It’s beyond our reach. We’re just trying to keep above the rest of the pack.”
Things didn’t start out promisingly for the Sockers. The Blast took a 1-0 lead 4:00 into the game when Socker goalkeeper Victor Nogueira roamed out of the goal, and Domenic Mobilio scored his 32nd goal of the season on an easy shot into an open net.
The Sockers tied it on Dougherty’s first goal 10:25 into the second quarter. The Sockers caught Baltimore in a counter-attack, and Dougherty converted Waad Hirmez’s diagonal feed from the neutral zone, beating Blast goalie Scott Manning from the left wing to the far post.
Dougherty struck again just 2:32 later on a similar play. Defender Gus Mokalis connected with Dougherty on a cross-field pass from the right wing, and Dougherty, at the left post, bounced the ball off the right post and behind a sliding Manning.
The Sockers exploited a mistake by Manning to take a 3-1 lead late in the third period. Manning raced into the corner with Steve Zungul to try to clear a loose ball, but he intentionally knocked the ball over the glass, setting up a free kick at the top of the penalty arc.
Zungul took the free kick, shuffling a short pass to his left to Chris Chueden, who nailed a shot from the left corner of the penalty area at 11:08 for his eighth goal of the season.
Dougherty completed his hat trick on a nice follow-up effort 1:58 into the final quarter. The Sockers’ final three goals came on an empty netter by Crow with 4:35 left, Hirmez’s 21st goal of the season and Dougherty’s fourth of the game.