Last-Place Storm Tops Sockers, 4-3

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In observance of St. Patrick's Day, the Sockers hung up their blue uniforms and instead donned the color of money.

Except they didn't play like a million bucks.

They got beat by the Major Soccer League's last-place team, the St. Louis Storm, 4-3, in front of a crowd of 7,783 at the Sports Arena.

Actually, the good fortune was on the side of the Storm with a half minute remaining and the Sockers pummeling the St. Louis goal. Goalie Jim Gorsek left his line trying to retrieve a loose ball that instead fell to Socker midfielder Tim Wittman.

Wittman fired at the open net only to have his shot batted away by defender Daryl Doran.

"It was a great save," Doran joked. "I make an excellent goalie."

Socker Coach Ron Newman wasn't amused.

"Twice he used his hands," Newman fumed. "He was bloody playing goalkeeper. . . . They should be playing by the rules, and the rules say we should have been given a shootout and St. Louis should have been given a two-minute penalty."

But the play went uncalled, and seconds later referee Brian Hall blew his whistle and called Socker Paul Wright for a subsequent hand ball.

"I thought he called a hand ball on me," Doran said. "But (Hall) pointed the other way."

Before Tuesday's victory, the Storm's chances of getting back in playoff contention were slim.

However, the Storm (14-21) inched within 2 1/2 games of fourth place and the final playoff berth with five games remaining.

The Storm is 2-1 since Fernando Clavijo replaced Don Popovic as coach.

The Sockers (24-11), meanwhile, failed to reduce their magic number to claim the regular-season championship. It stands at 3 over Dallas.

The Sockers appeared to miss veteran defender Ben Collins, who is sidelined with a left knee strain, more than St. Louis missed leading scorer Branko Segota, out with strained back muscles.

Three of the Storm's goals were attributable to defensive miscues.

The game-winner, driven in by Preki 58 seconds into the final quarter, came after the forward coaxed two Sockers to overcommit.

Preki, along the right boards, took a pass from Clavijo, and raced with it toward the left boards. Once he saw defenders Wes Wade and Paul Dougherty sprinting with him, he stopped and watched as Wade's and Dougherty's momentum carried them away.

Having created an open path to the goal, Preki sent the ball on it for a 4-2 lead.

After pulling goalie Victor Nogueira for a sixth attacker with four minutes, 15 seconds remaining, the Sockers were able to pull within one on Thompson Usiyan's second goal of the game. It came after Gorsek saved a shot from Wright, fell and had the ball spring loose when the goalie impacted with the ground. Usiyan was right there to hit it home.

But it was not enough to make up for the three consecutive second-half goals scored by the Storm, two of which were kicked in by Ted Eck, who also scored once in the first half.

Eck's first second-half goal came from along the left boards, and his second from on top of the penalty box while he had his back to the goal.

"It didn't look like he was in a dangerous position either time," Newman said.

The Sockers outshot the Storm 22-13 in the first half, but had only a 2-1 lead to show for it.

Part of the reason why was that Gorsek made 11 saves by that time. He finished with 17. Another reason, however, was that the Sockers missed several good chances.

With less than a minute left in the first quarter, Wright went on a break-away down the left boards, but instead of striking the ball with his left foot, he maneuvered to take a right-footed shot that was poorly struck.

A minute into the second quarter, David Banks and Alex Golovnia were racing for a through ball from opposite directions, didn't see each other and collided just as each wound up to shoot.

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