It was early in the fourth quarter Friday night. Socker defender Ralph Black was on his back. And the Kansas City Comets were on the attack.
Somehow, Black managed to stick his leg out far enough to deflect the shot of Comet forward Jan Goossens. The ball bounded nicely to midfielder Waad Hirmez, who brought it down the center of the carpet and sent it over to forward Zoran Karic. Soon, Karic sent it back. And Hirmez scored, giving the Sockers a 3-2 lead with 12:05 remaining.
For the first time in this young season, the Sockers had the lead, and they held onto it--though narrowly--defeating the Comets, 4-3, in front of 11,153 in their Major Indoor Soccer League home opener at the San Diego Sports Arena. The Sockers are now 1-1, the Comets 3-1.
Black said he doesn't mind making defensive plays like that from his back.
"You've got to do what you've got to do," he said. "When you're on the ground, you're helpless."
Veteran Steve Zungul, making his return after a bout with the flu, scored a late power-play goal to give the Sockers the eventual game-winner. Kia caught the Sockers by surprise with 30 seconds remaining, scoring off an assist from Greg Ion.
This game also marked the return of goalie Zoltan Toth, who missed more than half of last season after foot surgery. Socker Coach Ron Newman was pleased with what he saw from Toth, but it was Zungul who summed up Toth's return best.
"He was hungry," Zungul said. "He's from Hungary, anyway."
Hirmez wasn't altogether sure he was going to make it all the way down the field to meet Karic's pass. These early season games tend to tire a guy out.
"I did feel a little bit tired," he said, "but I did get there, and what counts is we won the game."
In a way, this was welcome-back party for the Sockers' defense, which took an extra day of vacation last week in the season-opening 9-3 loss to Dallas. Black, Kevin Crow and George Fernandez all made crucial blocks down the stretch to keep the Sockers on top.
The third quarter was a quiet one. The Sockers controlled the ball for most of the period but were unable to capitalize, despite two narrow misses. Brian Quinn struck the post on one shot, and Hirmez lost a collision with Comet goalie Jim Gorsek, a former Socker.
Just a minute into the game, Quinn tripped Kansas City midfielder Gerry Gray and held up his hands to acknowledge his foul. But since none of the refs saw either the trip or his waving hand, play continued.
"I thought it was (a two-minute penalty)," he said. "I've gotten two-minute penalties for a lot less."
In the second quarter, Quinn advanced the ball to just beyond the red line and knocked a no-look pass to Karic, who slipped by Comet defender Tom Kain to score his first goal of the season and tie the score at 1-1. That ended three scoreless quarters for the Sockers, including the second half of the opener at Dallas.
Less than three minutes later, Kia took a pass from Jan Goossens and drilled it past Toth. The Sockers tied it minutes before halftime when rookie Rod Castro, nicknamed "The Rocket," found himself in the right place after a scramble in front of the goal and scored off an assist from midfielder Jacques Ladouceur.
Kansas City opened the scoring with 8:25 remaining in the first quarter when Goossens got behind Fernandez and Hirmez, took a crossing pass from Nebo and drove it by Toth, who dove to his right. Goossens is the Comets' all-time leading scorer against the Sockers with 41 points.
The Sockers may not be anywhere near championship form, but now, at least, they're in the victory column.
"We were scratching to find form," Newman said. "I suppose we've got to be patient."
The MISL has given Socker Coach Ron Newman four new toys his season in the form of rule changes he can try to take advantage of: 1. Goalkeepers can now be substituted in the same manner as field players. Last season, teams had to check in with the referee before a goalie substitution; 2. The three-line violation has been done away with. Now, all players except the goalie can make length of the carpet passes in the air over the two red lines and the midfield line; 3. Also gone is the sixth-foul rule. Last season, a team penalty was served after the sixth individual penalty of each quarter; 4. After a year hiatus, the shootout is back. It will be used in lieu of the penalty kick and will enable an offensive player to go one-on-one with the goalie from the nearest redline. The offensive player has five seconds to score and can touch the ball an unlimited number of times. Forward Zoran Karic was unsuccessful in the Sockers' first shootout opportunity in their 9-3 season-opening loss to the Sidekicks in Dallas. . . . Socker defender George Fernandez played in his 82nd consecutive game Friday, placing him third on the team's all-time list ahead of former Socker Gert Wieczorkowski. Paul Dougherty leads with 91, and Jean Willrich is second with 88. . . . A moment of silence was observed before the game for Kaz Deyna, the former Sockers' star who was killed in an automobile accident in August.
Misl: Late goals by Zungul and Hirmez make the home opener a 4-3 success.