BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — At lunch Saturday, midfielder Juli Veee was reminiscing about the good old days with the Sockers when teammate Brian Quinn interrupted him and said: "Come on, Juli, we've got to get fired up for tomorrow's game."
Going into tonight's game at the Met Center, the Sockers are coming off 6-1 and 7-2 defeats, and they trail the Minnesota Strikers, 2-1, in their best-of-seven Major Indoor Soccer League championship series.
However, the Strikers' desire to win "One for the Pinky" appears to be much stronger than the Sockers' march toward "One for the Thumb."
Minnesota is going for its first title; the Sockers have won four straight indoor championships.
"We are identical teams," Striker forward Ray Hudson said. "But there is a newness for us."
There also is shock and frustration for a San Diego team that never before has trailed in a playoff series.
"They've always been resilient until they met us," Hudson said. "We've exploited that weakness in the machine. Their heart and spirit goes out when we go up two or three goals. Maybe they think we have their number. If we get that edge, we can really dismantle them."
In the past two games, Minnesota has been disciplined and collected.
The Sockers have been outplayed and have been so frustrated that they have been penalized for kicking, tripping, ungentlemanly conduct and dangerous play.
Friday, San Diego received three yellow cards, which are given for ungentlemanly conduct or dissent.
Now, the Sockers are searching for answers.
"I would like Ron (Newman) to tell the players that we have to come back on defense and have discipline," Socker captain Jean Willrich said. "We have to play defense and be disciplined."
The Sockers also need to find a leader. Since forward Steve Zungul was sold to Tacoma on Feb. 6, the Sockers have been searching for someone to fill the void.
"In all honesty, we thought they were a better team without Zungul," Hudson said. "But there are those intangibles. We don't know how much that lad meant to them on the bench and in the dressing room. . . .
"I wouldn't say there is a figurehead on their team now. That aura of Zungul must be amiss."
Said Socker midfielder Branko Segota: "If Steve were here, these last two games would never have happened. His presence is missed more than anything. He is a leader. People listen to him and work for him. Now, nobody wants to listen to anyone. They don't play for me like they played for Steve."
Conflicts between veterans and younger players on the Sockers, which have been brewing throughout the latter part of the season, have reached a boiling point in the playoffs.
In practice Friday morning, Veee fainted. Physically, he was fine after a few moments.
But mentally . . .
"I couldn't take it anymore," Veee joked. "It (working with some of the younger players who he oftens refers to as "dogs") was mental anguish."
Veterans Kevin Crow, Willrich, Veee and Quinn believe that Newman blames losses on them while favoring the younger players and making excuses for their mistakes.
"I know that Kevin, Jean, Juli, Branko and myself will be the scapegoats if we lose," Quinn said.
"You have to give certain guys responsibility to do something," Crow said. "He's (Newman) not giving us that responsibility."
It has reached the point where those four players were the only Sockers not to carry roses onto the field during the pregame introductions Friday night.
Newman asked all his players to carry the roses, but the four said they did not think it was proper to do so in the opposing team's arena.
"It (carrying flowers) was like a funeral," Veee said.
It may be a small detail, but it indicates the turmoil surrounding the team.
Admittedly, Willrich, Veee, Quinn and Crow are frustrated by their performances in the past two games. None have scored a point and they admit that they have not played to their capabilities.
There has been a lack of team unity throughout the playoffs. It's just gotten worse because the team is losing.
Hudson said he has heard whisperings about the internal dissatisfaction among the Sockers.
"Some San Diego players have made passing comments that there are one or two players who are taking advantage of Ron (Newman)," said Hudson, who played for Newman in Fort Lauderdale. "That would be sad."
After Friday night's loss, some of Sockers were talking as though their dynasty was as good as over.
"It's a heck of a matchup," Striker Coach Alan Merrick said. "Close . . . close . . . close. But you have to start to look at the psyche and the desire."
You know about the Sockers.
What about Minnesota?
The Strikers have a number of veteran players who have won championships in the North American Soccer League.
Striker defender Gary Etherington, who has broken Crow's MISL playoff record for blocked shots, won NASL outdoor championships with the Cosmos in 1977 and 1978.