Cleveland giveth, St. Louis taketh away.
Yes, just 24 hours after the Sockers turned in their most convincing home victory of the season against the Cleveland Crunch, the St. Louis Storm, an upstart expansion franchise, pulled out a pin, deflated the Sockers' confidence and burst their two-game winning streak. St. Louis 7, Sockers 4.
This game played before 9,189 at the San Diego Sports Arena was on fast forward, both sides employing the counter attack. The Storm (10-11) took control briefly in the third quarter, taking advantage of a delay-of-game penalty assessed to Socker midfielder Brian Quinn when former Socker Fernando Clavijo scored 2:03 into the period.
Socker forward Zoran Karic gave the Sockers a dash of hope a little more than a minute later, flashing some magical footwork in front of defender Emil Dragicevic, blowing past him to the left and drilling the ball past goalie Slobo Ilijevski. From then on, things came unglued.
St. Louis midfielder Claudio De Oliveira scored 5:21 into the fourth quarter and again at 10:42, after the Sockers had put in defender Kevin Crow as the sixth attacker. The victory pulled the Storm into a second-place tie with the Sockers (10-11), three games behind first-place Dallas in the Western Division of the Major Indoor Soccer League.
A noticeably shaken team held a closed-door meeting after the game to iron out problems and plan for an upcoming four-game trip. Midfielder Brian Quinn and veteran Steve Zungul, who hasn't suited up for the past seven games, spoke at length about the team's difficulties. Socker Coach Ron Newman explained it to reporters.
"What can you say about that one?" he asked. "Our weakness defensively early in the game was evident.
"(St. Louis) is a good side. They're better than when we played them last. They're certainly better than Cleveland."
The Crunch has been the one saving grace for the Sockers, who have defeated them with relative ease in all three meetings this season. But because they can't play them in all 52 games, the Sockers still have to be wondering when their inconsistencies will fall by the wayside.
Both teams got the most out of the first half, at least offensively. St. Louis led, 4-3, at halftime, after taking a 2-0 lead in the first quarter on goals by defender Mark Frederickson and forward Terry Brown.
With 4:26 remaining in the quarter, the Sockers executed a nice fake on a restart kick, midfielder Branko Segota faking the shot and midfielder Waad Hirmez sending it in to the left corner with his left foot. But less than a minute later, forward Stan Terlecki gave the Storm another two-goal cushion, following a blocked shot by goalie Victor Nogueira and scoring with his right foot.
Crow made it 3-2 before the quarter ended, scoring his fifth goal of the season off an assist from Karic.
Socker forward Jim Gabarra scored his first goal of the season in the second quarter to tie the score, 3-3. Once again the Storm retaliated quickly, forward Godfrey Ingram scoring on a long pass from De Oliveira to give St. Louis a 4-3 halftime lead.
And that play was as indicative as any of the Sockers inability on this night to play consistent defense. Ingram was all by himself without a Socker defender in shouting distance.
"That was a killing goal," Newman said. "From my point of view that was a terrible goal. Somebody missed an assignment. That was critical, just when the momentum was starting to swing our way."
The loss was critical too, just when the momentum was starting to swing the Sockers way. This is all about the pride of a seven-time champion.
"We feel we're paid to win, we're not paid to just play," Crow said. "I think a lot of people feel they're paid to just play. We're not like that. You can't accept mediocrity."
If things don't change, the Sockers may soon have to learn.
Three Storm players are former Sockers: forward Gary Heale, and defenders Gus Mokalis and Fernando Clavijo. Mokalis was on the Sockers' championship team last season, Clavijo played from 1984-88 and Heale played on the Sockers' outdoor team in the North American Soccer League in 1983. . . . The Sockers and the Storm took turns tripping each other in the second quarter Saturday. First, midfielder Ben Collins planted his foot in the path of Clavijo, who took a nose dive and had to be helped off the carpet. Minutes later, Storm forward Stan Terlecki came off the bench early on a substitution and, in the process, tripped defender George Fernandez, who dropped in the same manner as Clavijo. Both returned later in the quarter. . . . Midfielder Branko Segota moved into first place on the Sockers' all-time assist scoring list with 214 when he assisted on forward Damir Haramina's goal in Friday's 4-1 victory over Cleveland.