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Sockers Seize Chance, Win Opener in Dallas : MISL playoffs: A missed Sidekick opportunity opens the way to a 4-2 victory as Paul Wright scores two goals.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Tatu made a perfect pass. Dallas forward Willie Molano was standing at the right side of the goal mouth with what looked to be an easy one to tap in.

Gee. How did he miss that?

The ball bounced off the right post, the Sockers gained possession, and 12 seconds later, forward Paul Wright was at the other end, scoring to tie the game.

Two goals, 9 minutes and 3 seconds later Friday, the Sockers wrapped up a 4-2 victory in Reunion Arena to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven MISL Western Division championships. Game 2 is in Dallas tonight at 5:35 (PDT).

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A crowd of 8,061 watched with anticipation when Molano got the ball. The Sidekicks were leading, 2-1. Goalie Victor Nogueira was stretched out on the ground thinking the Sockers were about to sink.

“He should have scored,” Nogueira said. “He had an open goal. That sparked us.”

Said midfielder Brian Quinn: “That was crucial. I think if it goes to 3-1, Dallas wins the game.”

But indoor soccer is like that. A mis-kick here, a bad bounce there, and a loss becomes a victory.

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“Every game you look back and say ‘If this happened, if that happened . . . " defender Kevin Crow said. “You need your breaks.”

Breaks aside, the Sockers created a nice blend of banging and bashing, with a dash of magical passing. When Tatu, the MISL’s leading scorer during the regular season, got within striking distance, the Socker defense closed and shooed him away from the goal. He finished without a point.

The Sockers’ assists were more fun to watch than their goals. Late in the first quarter, midfielder Branko Segota scrapped to win the ball on the right sideline and sent a pass off the boards that wound up in the middle of the penalty box at the feet of Wright, who sent it into the right corner to give the Sockers a 1-0 lead.

Dallas tied it with two seconds remaining in the half when midfielder Mark Karpun headed in a corner kick from midfielder Kevin Smith.

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After Karpun scored his second goal 5:58 into the third quarter to give Dallas a 2-1 lead, the Sockers took advantage of Molano’s miss and took control. For his second goal of the game, Wright took advantage of a scrappy play by forward Jim Gabarra, who knocked the ball away from goalie Joe Papaleo a few feet in front of the goal.

Wright is a guy who could just as well be listening to these games on the radio, considering he was with the Cleveland Crunch until March 6, when the Sockers acquired him in a swap for Zoran Karic. Funny when you think about it. The guy hardly played at all for the Sockers last year, spent the winter battling the cold on a team that was even colder and is now helping push the Sockers toward another championship.

And that’s exactly what he thinks this season will result in. Another championship. No. 8.

“Everyone knows we’re a good team,” Wright said. “If you ask people around the league ‘Who is going to win?’ they’ll say the San Diego Sockers, because we’re the best team.”

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Probably a little early to start ordering rings, but one thing is certain. This is a different team than we saw at the All-Star break. First of all, the Sockers have figured a way to win on the road, where they were 6-20 during the regular season. They are 3-0 there during the playoffs.

And they also have confidence.

What else prompts a team to come back from a 2-1 deficit on the road against a team such as the Sidekicks, who finished the regular season six games ahead of them?

“It’s a different atmosphere, you know,” Quinn said. “I think the boys feel we have a chance if we all keep it going for another few games. (Tonight) we hung in there, and we kept going and going.”

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That applied to Quinn in particular, who wasn’t at the top of his game in the first half. He perked up after the Sockers tied, and midway through the fourth quarter, he sent a crossing pass to forward Rod Castro, who made it 3-2 with his right foot.

The Sidekicks went to the sixth attacker with 3:29 remaining. Thirteen seconds later, Dallas defender Wes McLeod knocked the ball back in the direction of the Sidekick goal, and it went into the right corner.

Wes Wade, the Sockers’ rookie forward, was credited with the goal.

“I didn’t touch it,” Wade said. “It was really the other Wes’ goal.”

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Whatever, the loss left the Sidekicks a bit ill-tempered. The scene in their locker room after the game included a shouting match between Papaleo and Tatu. Sidekick Coach Billy Phillips broke it up about the time it looked to be turning toward blows.

Dallas waited 20 days after the regular season ended for this?

“It’s a tough hole, but it’s not a hole we can’t dig out of,” Phillips said. “We have to win (tonight). If we lose that one, we have to go to San Diego to win two of three, and that’s not realistic.”

Series Notes

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Sidekick defender Richard Chinapoo is expected to miss at least two weeks after he strained his calf in practice Tuesday. . . . Dallas is now 0-7 in the first games of their playoff appearances. . . . Neither team had a power play in Friday’s game.


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