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In League Where Offense Reigns, These Sockers Get Little Attention : Making a Case for MISL's No. 1 Defense

January 22, 1986|MARC APPLEMAN | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — A siren wails and a recording of Dire Straits' "The Walk of Life" rocks the San Diego Sports Arena whenever the Sockers score a goal. It's party time.

The place stays revved up when there's a diving save by a Socker goalkeeper.

At times, though, when the Sockers are on defense, a lull sets in. To keep the fans from sitting on their hands, the sound of rhythmic clapping blares from the PA system. Once the Sockers get the ball back, no stimulus is needed. The clapping is real.

In the Major Indoor Soccer League, offense sells. Defense is tolerated.

The MISL prides itself on high-scoring games. An 11-9 game is thrilling. A 2-1 game is a dud. The Americanized version of the most popular sport in the world thrives on shots on goal.

Attack, shoot and score are the passwords of the MISL. It's no coincidence that the league's most recognizable names and most highly paid performers--Steve Zungul, Stan Stamenkovic, Karl Heinz-Granitza--are the biggest scorers.

Defenders are almost viewed as an obstacle to excitement and are as anonymous as offensive linemen in football. Actually, blocks by Ed White probably get more publicity than blocks by Socker defender Kevin Crow.

"After Zoltan was named defensive star of the game for his 9-0 shutout against Wichita, we told him, 'Eric Dickerson buys rings for his linemen,' " Crow said. "We don't even get a Coca-Cola."

In a high-scoring game, the Socker forwards and midfielders get the attention. If Toth or Gorsek record a shutout or give up only a goal or two, they get rave reviews.

Where does that leave the San Diego defenders, who have allowed the fewest goals in the MISL this season? The Sockers have allowed 83 goals in 21 games going into tonight's game against the Kansas City Comets at the Sports Arena.

Defender George Katakilidis wanted to play up front when he was with the New York Arrows, but Zungul and Branko Segota were scoring goals by the bunches. Therefore, he became a defender. Some players are natural defenders and some are converted forwards.

"Most of the time, defenders were midfielders," said Crow, who played both forward and defender at San Diego State. "But when they get to a level like this (MISL), if they played midfield, they wouldn't last long."

For Crow, the 1984-85 MISL Defensive Player of the Year and league leader in blocked shots, the move to defender has been anything but a demotion. He believes defenders have a great deal of opportunity to be involved in the action in the indoor game and he enjoys the chess game between defenders and scorers.

"Having played offense, I know how offensive players think and know what's going on two to three steps in advance," he said.

And as long as he is appreciated, Crow likes being anonymous.

"I'd rather not be in the spotlight," he said. "It doesn't bother me as long as everyone on the team realizes what we do. And on this team, they do."

They get a lot of respect from grateful teammates who receive the glory through their efforts.

"Players and coaches understand that playing defense is a big responsibility," defender Fernando Clavijo said. "Forwards can make a lot of mistakes and nothing happens. If we make a mistake, 50% of the time it results in a goal. Defenders have to be ready and up for every single game. Forwards can sometimes take it easy."

Since the Sockers have such a potent offensive lineup up front and in the midfield, their defenders are not counted on for much offense. They play a standard man-to-man defense that turns into a zone as soon as someone is beat.

"The only time we change our defense is for Stamenkovic of Baltimore," Crow said. "You are almost at his mercy when he gets the ball in the post. Since you have to deny him the ball, Fernando or I are always marking him one-on-one."

Successfully marking players is very satisfying to defenders, but killing penalties and blocking shots is what gets their name in the paper.

"The blocked shots statistic is a Catch-22," Crow said. "I might have gotten my Defensive Player of the Year award because of it. But the way it is set up, it is a worthless statistic. You don't have a lot of blocked shots unless you're on the defensive power play a lot, and sometimes you get blocked shots because you're doing something wrong."

Crow also thinks the definition of a blocked shot is like that of the assist in basketball. It varies considerably from city to city and official scorer to official scorer.

"People judging blocked shots have to be knowledgeable and many times they are not. And players need those statistics because some owners don't know the game and having a lot of blocked shots helps at contract time."

And at playoff time.

"Players and coaches understand that the ones who win championships are the defense," Clavijo said. "Now I would like to see the public understand more about what we are doing."

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