UNIONDALE, N.Y. — Raffaele Ruotolo considered Friday night to be special. After all, the Sockers' 21-year-old midfielder had his family and about 20 friends at the Nassau Coliseum to see him play against the New York Express.
Little did he know how special it would be.
Ruotolo scored at 7:07 of sudden-death overtime to give the Sockers a 4-3 victory against the Express, 0-4 in its first season in the Major Indoor Soccer League.
After playing sporadically with the Sockers during the past two seasons, Ruotolo had his big moment at "home."
Ruotolo was born in Brooklyn and moved with his family to Italy when he was 5. After playing for the Napoli and Avellino youth teams and Casanuovo of the Italian Fourth Division, he returned to Brooklyn when he was 18. His parents live in Bensonhurst, a Brooklyn neighborhood.
"Tonight was beautiful . . . just beautiful," Ruotolo said. "Last night, we got together in Long Island and had a party with friends and family from Brooklyn. . . . Tonight I just touch it (the ball) on my right foot. I score. What a thrill."
Ruotolo's game-winner, his fourth goal in five games, was set up by Jean Willrich.
"I know Raffy is inside the box," Willrich said. "I say, get it close on the boards and maybe the goalkeeper will commit himself."
Said Express goalkeeper Hubert Birkenmeier: "When I made a dive, I got my left hand on (the ball). But it was not enough. It was too late already."
"It wasn't one of his (Ruotolo's) better games, but I was so pleased for him to get the goal," said Ron Newman, Sockers coach.
The Sockers and Ruotolo were lucky to come away with a victory after trailing 2-1 at halftime and 3-2 midway through the final quarter.
San Diego (3-2), which had lost two straight one-goal games, was playing its third overtime in five games and was going through its traditional early season struggle.
"We're shooting when we should pass and passing when we should shoot," Newman said. "We didn't look sharp again."
The Sockers also didn't get the breaks again. Shot after shot hit the near post, the far post and the crossbar.
"We're talking about the thickness of a fingernail being the difference being the ball going in," Newman said.
A lackluster crowd of 5,177 watched San Diego outshoot the Express, 41-38.
Birkenmeier had 24 saves for the Express, getting the start instead of team president and former Arrows and Cosmo star Shep Messing. They alternate assignments in the Express goal.
San Diego goalkeeper Zoltan Toth, one of six former New York Arrows playing for the Sockers, made 18 saves.
"It was an emotional game for me," said Toth, who requested 50 tickets for Friday night's game. "I got a little boost when I first got out on the field, but then look what happens. The first shot is a goal. I had to get rid of that emotion."
Express defender Chris Whyte made it 1-0, but Juli Veee tied the game on a tap-in 14 seconds later. Express defender Kevin Maher made it 2-1 at halftime.
Ade Coker made it 2-2 early in the third quarter and 3-3 midway through the final quarter on a power play goal. Marcello Carrera had given New York its 3-2 lead.
Despite receiving six penalties to just two for the Express and despite Branko Segota missing on a shoot-out opportunity in the third quarter, the Sockers forced the game into overtime.
"I just kicked my leg out," Ruotolo said. "Overtime is beautiful."