Boy, that $25,000 is going a long way.
Only a handful of months ago, the Tacoma Stars said they wanted nothing to do with Steve Zungul. Here was a guy on the final lap of his career, who had nagging hip injuries and a propensity to argue with coaches.
But one coach took a chance on the 34-year-old veteran--Ron Newman. He offered Zungul the minimum Major Indoor Soccer League salary ($25,000) in November to rejoin the Sockers, the team whose reputation he helped build several years back.
Tuesday night in the Baltimore Arena, that $25,000 investment looked as good as any oil deal J.R. Ewing ever put together. Zungul scored the winning goal in the Sockers’ 5-4 overtime victory over the Baltimore Blast in Game 2 of the MISL championship series.
Money well spent?
“It is in my mind,” said Newman, whose team is now tied 1-1 in this best-of-seven series that resumes Friday in San Diego.
His game-winner, coming 2 minutes 46 seconds into the extended period, wasn’t much for the highlight film. Zungul kicked it while standing a few feet away from the boards to the left of the Blast goal. Baltimore goalie Scott Manning charged out to contest him. Somehow, the ball skipped past Manning and found a spot inside the right goal post, giving Zungul a team-leading 15 playoff points.
“Mathematically, it was impossible,” Newman said.
To the contrary, said Zungul.
“Maybe it was for him,” Zungul said. “For me, it was OK.”
OK for his teammates too. They chanted “The Lord of All Indoors,” as Zungul pushed his way through the locker room doors. That’s his nickname.
Zungul has now scored at least one goal in 20 of 23 championship series playoff games. None perhaps more important than Tuesday’s. Maybe Newman deserves some credit. He elected to keep Zungul out most of the first half to save him for the end. The best for last, so to speak.
Zungul wasn’t thrilled. “I was arguing with him. I was ready to play.’
But Newman stuck by his decision. “In my opinion, it’s difficult for him in the latter part of a back-to-back game. He said, ‘I know when I’m tired.’ But I wanted him to be fresh in the fourth quarter.”
He was certainly fresh enough to earn the praise, if not the quips, of his teammates.
“We call him a money player,” Kevin Crow said. “That doesn’t mean he’s making a lot of money.”
For a while, Tuesday’s game looked dangerously similar to Monday’s, when the Blast stole a victory in overtime after tying the score with seven seconds remaining in regulation.
There were plenty of indications this game might end similarly. Such as late in the fourth quarter, when Baltimore tied the score, 4-4, on Freddie Thompson’s goal. Socker defender Crow should have been credited with the assist. The ball went off his hip.
“That’s when I was frustrated,” Crow said. “It was just the same old thing. The only type of goals they’re scoring are those scrappy goals.”
Witness also Baltimore’s second goal. Domenic Mobilio tapped the ball in after defender George Fernandez attempted to make a short pass to goalie Victor Nogueira and the ball went through Nogueira’s legs.
Yet indications that this game might turn out differently may have come when Zungul scored his first goal, late in the third quarter. At the time, the Blast had whittled the Sockers’ 3-0 lead to 3-2 on goals by Mobilio, bringing the crowd of 6,260 to its feet. The momentum had shifted.
Zungul shifted it back, making his way down the carpet and sticking the ball in the left corner of the goal. Pleased as punch with himself, he ran up the carpet waving his fists in the air.
That contrasted with his reaction to the game-winner. After that, he took a swift exit.
“I saw everybody running at me,” he said. “The guy opened the door and I said, ‘Thank you very much’ and ran through.”
So this was a jovial group of Sockers, set to return to San Diego to try to finish their business with help from Branko Segota, who missed both Baltimore games with a hamstring injury. What a difference from 24 hours before.
Remember Waad Hirmez? He spent most of his time after Monday’s game explaining himself.
He had to. It was his botched empty-net shot that gave the Baltimore Blast its opportunity to win.
At the end of his explanations, he said: “I just have to redeem myself tomorrow.”
Tuesday he scored the Sockers’ second and third goals, which, coupled with an early score from Brian Quinn, paved the way for the Sockers’ victory.