SAN DIEGO — The Sockers seemed much more sure of themselves before the Major Indoor Soccer League playoffs began Wednesday night at the Sports Arena. They said they expected an easy time against the Kansas City Comets, their first-round opponent.
Perhaps San Diego should have won easily, but it didn't turn out that way in a 4-3 victory on Brian Quinn's second goal of the night at 11:45 of overtime.
Before the match, Coach Ron Newman said Kansas City would only win if it played its best and the Sockers played their worst.
Not surprisingly, Game 1 in the best-of-five series changed Newman's mind.
"If that's the eighth-ranked team on the (playoff) list, what the hell are the rest of the teams like?" Newman asked. "If we would've lost, I wouldn't have said anything. We played as well as we could."
Kansas City may have played one of its better games of the season, but Coach Rick Benben thought his team at least had temporarily quieted the Sockers.
"I still think that they probably think we're a (lousy) team and have no respect for us," Benben said. "We feel we're a good team that needs to earn respect."
And that the Comets did Wednesday night.
However, it wasn't enough to stop Quinn, who scored the go-ahead goal in the fourth quarter and then the winning goal in overtime.
Steve Zungul, who was held scoreless for the first time ever in a MISL playoff game, began the winning play with a pass to Branko Segota, who then passed to a wide-open Quinn at the Kansas City goal.
"When you get in that position, nine times out of 10 the ball doesn't get to you," Quinn said. "Fortunately, Branko made a good pass and I was in the right place."
Segota said: "At first, I was going to take the shot. Then I saw Quinnie streaking all alone down the left side so I passed to him."
Time and again the Sockers were frustrated by Kansas City goalkeeper Manny Schwartz, who played an outstanding game.
An example of his mastery: Zungul had a breakaway at 6:35 of the fourth quarter foiled by Schwartz's foot save. The game was tied, 2-2 at the time.
Finally, the Sockers took a 3-2 lead at 7:47 of the quarter on Quinn's goal off Kansas City defender Damir Haramina. Quinn had taken a loose ball, faked Haramina one way then deflected the ball off the back of Haramina's leg.
Haramina came back to score the tying goal off an assist from Tasso Koutsoukos at 11:43 of the quarter.
The overtime period was nothing new to the Comets. In last week's wild card playoffs against St. Louis, Kansas City had won both games in overtime to earn a berth against the Sockers.
Early on, both teams were attempting to establish momentum but neither could. The only thing established was that the record-low playoff crowd of 7,552 fans would boo Kansas City's Greg Makowski all night.
Just 1:28 into the game, Makowski and Segota had a shoving match in front of the Comets' goal. Makowski drew the wrath of the crowd for his participation, but Segota drew a two-minute penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct.
The Sockers killed the penalty, and they eventually scored the first goal on a power play at 13:50 of the period. Jean Willrich intercepted a pass at midfield, then he dribbled the ball to 30 feet from Schwartz to score.
If not for Schwartz, the Comets could have been put away the first quarter. San Diego had the edge in shots, 14-4, but was frustrated continually by Schwartz.
The Sockers--and their fans--became extremely frustrated when Makowski tied the game at 11:25 of the second quarter off a Charlie Fajkus pass.
However, Hugo Perez retaliated with the Sockers's second goal 26 seconds later. Schwartz only had himself to blame because he made an errant pass to Perez. But the Comets couldn't fault Schwartz for their 2-1 halftime deficit because they had been outshot, 26-11.
Kansas City tied the game, 2-2, on Angelo DiBernardo's shot at 6:03 of the third quarter. DiBernardo nearly scored again at 11:30, only to have Jim Gorsek make an outstanding save.
But most of the saves of the night belonged to Schwartz. In fact, Newman lifted Schwartz's hand in the air after the game, indicating Schwartz was a winner.
"I saw Ron Newman doing that," Benben said. "I guess we just played with one guy."
That one guy--Schwartz--nearly handed the Sockers their first home playoff loss in 14 games.
AT A GLANCE
SOCKERS VS. COMETS
Game 1 Sockers 4, Comets 3 (OT) Game 2 Friday Sports Arena 7:35 p.m. Game 3 Sunday Kansas City 1:35 p.m. Game 4 Tuesday Kansas City 5:35 p.m. Game 5 May 5 Sports Arena 6 p.m. NOTE: Game 4 and Game 5 if necessary. All times PST.
Cleveland 6, Chicago 1 (Cleveland leads, 2-1)
Baltimore 4, L.A. 3 (Baltimore leads, 1-0)
Minnesota 6, Las Vegas 5 (Minnesota leads, 1-0)