While Los Angeles sports fans have watched with considerable consternation as the Dodgers have bobbed in and out of last place in the National League West, another professional team in town has, right there under their noses, ripped through its league and clinched a championship.
Let's hear it for the . . . Hollywood Kickers. They are the bullies of the Western Soccer Alliance.
Before anybody gets riled and kicks himself for missing out on all the frolic and merriment, relax. Southern California has a final chance to revel in all the glory and civic pride that a championship soccer team inspires. In the last game of the season, on Aug. 16 at El Camino College, the Kickers square off against their rivals from Torrance, the L.A. Heat. The winner will be proclaimed king of something called the L.A. Derby, but the match is really meaningless since Hollywood clinched the league title Sunday with its win over Seattle. The Heat is in fifth place.
That the Kickers, in their first season, won the seven-team league was surprising enough, but when they stayed in first place for all but four days of the summer-long season, well, it shocked league officials. Even Hollywood Coach Dieter Hochheimer was taken back.
"I expected us to be in the upper half of the league," Hochheimer said, in an accent that gives away his German homeland. "But that we won the whole thing was just super."
The key to Hollywood's season came early when the new team managed to tie Portland and beat Seattle on the road and get past F.C. Dundee of Scotland.
Still, the Kickers had to survive a two-game skid, losing to Manchester and the San Jose Earthquakes, last year's champion. Hochheimer made some changes defensively and since then the Kickers are undefeated. "We had to stabilize our defense," the coach said.
They did. Goalkeeper Lorenzo Caccialanza, a 31-year-old veteran of Italy's professional leagues, played, as one league aficionado said, "Out of his mind." Before pulling a muscle in his leg after the 11th game of the season, Caccialanza led the league in goals-against average and had a league-high five shutouts.
When asked about his surprisingly outstanding season, Caccialanza said, "Acting . . . that's the main reason I came to L.A. Soccer is just something I do."
While his acting career, by his own admission, isn't exactly soaring, in goal, he was on a roll.
"Lorenzo vas our backbone," Hochheimer said. "He had some great games, but he played consistently, too." No team gave up fewer goals during the season than Hollywood.