Coach Ron Newman stood outside the Sockers’ locker room Friday night agonizing over missed scoring opportunities in a 2-1 loss to St. Louis.
“There was some great goalkeeping, but it’s some misfortune, I suppose,” Newman said. “We had some lovely chances to put the game away, and we didn’t do it.”
So with the missed opportunities came the Sockers’ fall from first place--they lost their share of the lead in the MSL’s Western Division.
The Sockers, who had won seven of their past eight games before Friday, fell to 16-12, one game behind St. Louis. The Storm (18-12) leads the division. The Storm’s .600 winning percentage is tops in the MSL.
Newman downplayed any additional pressure on his team as the teams battled for first place Friday. The game was played in front of a St. Louis season-high 9,407 fans. And in four of the previous five meetings this season, the Sockers-Storm matchup has been decided by one goal.
The season series is now tied at three victories apiece.
“There’s not pressure,” Newman said. “Actually, they’re more relaxed out there, and they try to enjoy it and show their talents.”
Scoring talent was nowhere to be found Friday, however. It was the lowest-scoring game in the MSL this season, and it was tied 1-1 until 15 seconds into the fourth quarter, when St. Louis got the game-winner.
Defender Darryl Doran’s shot from the San Diego red line was deflected in front of the Sockers’ net by Storm forward Terry Brown. The ball changed directions, beating goalie Victor Nogueira and leaving Newman groping for an explanation.
“You can’t do much about (the deflection),” Newman said. “But you’ve got to try to stop the initial shot.”
That narrow margin held up for St. Louis, even after the Sockers went to a sixth attacker for the game’s final 3:40.
Said St. Louis coach Don Popovic: “We were very happy to have that goal hold up. San Diego is one of the best teams in the league, no doubt about it. Both sides had a lot of chances and you know with San Diego’s talent they’ll always get their chances.”
The Sockers were held to one goal for only the third time this season.
After the Storm took a 1-0 lead on Godfrey Ingram’s goal at 6:37 of the first, the Sockers missed on two good scoring opportunities in the first half during wild flurries in front of Storm goalie Zoltan Toth.
Then, at the start of the third quarter, Branko Segota missed an open goal at 6:20.
Just when Newman thought he might be seeing more of the same, Paul Wright got his 21st goal of the season less than three minutes after Segota’s miss to tie the game, 1-1. Wright, who has scored a point in 13 of his past 14 games and 20 of his past 22, beat Toth from 50 feet out.
Wright then set up several chances late in the game that his linemates failed to convert. Jacques Ladouceur missed on a crossing pass from Wright with 11 minutes left that just missed a wide-open Storm goal.
St. Louis outshot the Sockers, 23-21.
Wright, nursing a sprained right ankle after the game, expressed disappointment with the loss.
“We didn’t put our chances away,” said Wright, who does not expect to miss any time because of the injury. “We had enough chances to win it, but it just didn’t work that way. We treat this loss like we treat every other one.”
But Newman bemoaned a lost opportunity, even if it’s not do-or-die time yet.
“We’ve got to get our share against St. Louis and that includes winning here,” he said. “And that’s tough.”
Brian Quinn sustained a badly bruised left calf when Brian Schmetzer inadvertently kicked him as Quinn attempted to steal the ball on a power play. Quinn is doubtful for tonight’s game against Baltimore.