The Splash ended its regular season Sunday with a convincing 8-3 victory over Detroit, the Continental Indoor Soccer League's lowest scoring team.
Now, the hard part.
After the anemic start, a pathetic penalty-killing unit, the horrible road record in the first half of the season, the Splash can finally get down to the business of doing the one thing it hasn't done in four years in Anaheim.
Win a CISL championship.
The Splash (16-12) finished second in the Western Division, five games behind Seattle. Because of scheduling conflicts, the entire first-round series against third-place Sacramento (14-14) will be Oct. 6-7 at Arco Arena.
"This is as confident as I've ever felt going into the playoffs," said player/coach Dale Ervine, who had two goals and two assists in the game played in front of 9,643.
"It's one thing to talk about [winning] and another thing to talk about it and believe you're going to do it. I really believe this team believes--and expects--to win the first round regardless of where it's played. And this team believes and expects to win the second round."
Especially if it plays the way it did after Ervine challenged his players to execute their roles and let the scoring take care of itself. The Splash, with a 3-2 halftime lead, scored the first five goals of the second half. John O'Brien, Brian Irvin, Terry Rowe, P.J. Polowski and Bernie Lilavois (two goals, three assists) all scored.
The Splash begins the playoffs having won four of its last five games and 11 of its final 16. Its five losses were by one goal, and four were in overtime.
The Splash also won five of its last seven road games, including a victory at Sacramento.
Former Splash defender Paul McDonnell made his first return to the Pond and received a nice ovation when he was introduced. McDonnell scored only two goals in 12 games with Detroit (3-25), but was active on offense (shooting one for eight). His goal midway in the first quarter cut the deficit to a goal; he was denied twice back-to-back on terrific saves by Splash goalkeeper Ruben Fernandez (15 saves).
The Splash defense held opponents to five goals or fewer in 21 of 28 games.
"I really think our defense has been the cornerstone of the team," said O'Brien, whose seven blocks tied a team record [Steve Boardman in 1993]) and gave him 63 for the season, also matching a team record (Sean Bowers, 1995).
Fernandez said the defensive showing doesn't just fall on defenders, though.
"We couldn't do it if we didn't have players who put pressure on the other team and then got back on defense," said Fernandez, who lowered his goals-against average to 4.63, the league's second-best total. "To allow 4 1/2 goals a game over the course of a season--that's unbelievable. That shows the kind of effort we put out."
The Splash played without Doug Neely (strained hamstring) and Danny Barber (strained groin), who rested with mild injuries.