When Spring Comes, Sockers Arise to Terrorize MISL Mortals

Any resemblance between the Sockers and Jason, the bizarre character who awakens to terrorize on Friday the 13th, is purely coincidental . . . and appropriate.

How many times has Jason been dead?

And how many times has it seemed that the Sockers have been literally or figuratively kaput?

To Major Indoor Soccer League opponents, spring is Friday the 13th. This is the time of year when opponents start with their nightmares, because this is the time of year when the Sockers kick the lids off their coffins.

In spite of the fact that they have occasionally stumbled a bit through the regular season, the Sockers always seem to be a different bunch when spring comes and the playoffs start. In fact, they have won six indoor championships in the past seven years.

After the 1983-84 season, in which they had won their third consecutive championship, half the starting lineup was sold to Las Vegas.

During that off-season, one of the departed players, Juli Veee, ran into Coach Ron Newman in the Sockers' office during a fitting for the latest championship rings.

"Make sure it fits good, Ron," Veee said, "because it's going to be your last one."

History tells us that the 1984-85 Sockers had a 37-11 record and won a fourth consecutive championship.

That might have been Veee's last ring, except for one thing. He returned to the Sockers . . . and won two more.

One of them was last year, when the Sockers had to endure the loss of star Branko Segota for the final series against Cleveland.

"I remember during the regular season when Branko scored something like seven or eight points in one game against Cleveland," Newman said. "Some fellow leaned over the railing and said, 'You'd be nothing without Segota, Newman.' I couldn't find him anywhere when we swept Cleveland in the finals four games to nothing."

That's the way it has gone for the Sockers. It never seems to make any difference whom they have lost. It never seems to make any difference if the players they have are either fighting among themselves or fighting the owner or fighting the coach. They find a way to terrorize come spring.

Next Wednesday will be May 3 on the calendar, but it is Friday the 13th to the Dallas Sidekicks. They come to San Diego that evening to begin a best-of-seven semifinal series.

In this series, the home-arena advantage belongs to the Sockers because they came from six feet under to finish second, a mere two games behind Baltimore.

How far under?

Maybe more than six feet under. Last summer, this franchise was dead, as in bankrupt. For that matter, the whole MISL was on the brink of burial. The Sockers did not know from day-to-day whether they would survive . . . or whether they would have a league in which to play if they did.

Businessman Ron Fowler finally pulled them through. Essentially, he bought the club out of bankruptcy from himself and set about to make a fresh start free of the debt that had taken this franchise so perilously close to oblivion.

However, though the cupboard was not bare, the playing talent had been thinned by a salary cap as well as the uncertainty about whether there would be a place to play. Regulars such as Hugo Perez, Jim Gorsek, Juli Veee, Fernando Clavijo, George Katakalidis, Jacques Ladouceur and Waad Hirmez (since returned) were gone.

It looked as if there was no way for the MISL's Freddy to get loose for another rampage.

"This year, we were not structured quite so soundly at the start of the season," Newman said. "I wasn't as comfortable as I'd like to be. We'd lost all of our preparation months during the bankruptcy talk, and we'd lost players, and we were late in recruiting new ones. We really got left at the post."

A 3-7 start was ominous, and then came injuries that would take goalkeeper Zoltan Toth out of three-fourths of the season and Segota and Brian Quinn out of almost half. Given that these were their three "money" players, they were in big trouble.

And yet here they are. They won 24 of their last 38 regular-season games to zip up the ladder and position themselves once again for another sequel in another spring.

"Really," Newman said, "we've made a remarkable recovery. I think the credit has to go to the defense. The back four (Kevin Crow, Ralph Black, George Fernandez and Gus Mokalis), and goalkeeper Victor Nogueira have been absolutely amazing."

Of course, the Sockers would not be the Sockers if there was not some uncertainty in one area or another. After all, Newman's contract expires at the end of the season.

"I'd be very, very surprised if we were not able to work out a new contract with Ron," owner Fowler said, "and Ron is of the same mind. I feel very positive about it."

So much for uncertainty.

In a few weeks or less, this will be worked out, and Ron Newman will be locked into the Sockers' future as he has been embedded in their past. This is good because a look at the Sockers' history tells us they have enjoyed all of this success with an incredible blend of players overcoming unbelievable adversity, and just maybe the coach has something to do with it.

It's almost enough to make you think that Ron Newman is Jason, at least to the MISL.

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