SAN DIEGO — Just another typical Socker game Wednesday night.
Nowadays, that means that the team that has never been shut out in 308 indoor games has to continually struggle to avoid that embarrassment.
Wednesday night, the St. Louis Steamers--who have the second-worst record in the league and are ranked eighth defensively--beat San Diego, 2-1, in front of a season-low home crowd of 7,701 in the San Diego Sports Arena.
The Sockers have lost four straight games for the first time since early in the 1982-83 season, when they lost five in a row.
San Diego avoided being shut out Wednesday when midfielder Jean Willrich scored on a long right-footer with only 2:53 remaining.
"This game is totally symbolic of what we're going through," said Socker defender Kevin Crow. "Of course it would have been embarrassing to be shut out. Especially at home. But with the strength of our team now, it's always a possibility."
Once again, the Sockers played without five injured starters--four of whom (Branko Segota, Juli Veee, Brian Quinn and Hugo Perez) used to provide most of San Diego's offense.
On Wednesday, the Sockers hit the post three times and missed on numerous scoring opportunities. Crow did not feel that was a good excuse.
"Everybody misses scoring chances," Crow said. "It's just that those players (the injured Sockers) create more chances."
The Sockers have scored only eight goals in their last four losses--two of which were against St. Louis and one of which was against Los Angeles, the two worst teams in the league.
So some San Diego players were surprised that Coach Ron Newman pulled defender Fernando Clavijo as the team's sixth attacker after Willrich's goal with Clavijo on the field.
"We were doing good," Clavijo said. "I was surprised and never expected to come out, but he's the coach. We have to follow him."
Said Crow: "I was definitely surprised. We're losing the game."
Newman conceded that he made a mistake by bringing goalkeeper Zoltan Toth back into the game at that point.
"I made an error by not leaving the goalkeeper pulled," Newman said. "I didn't want us to suddenly let in a goal when we had the momentum. I wanted to give Fernando a rest and would have put him back in when there was an out-of-bounds possession."
There were no more out-of-bounds possessions, and the Sockers were out of timeouts. And San Diego never had an opportunity to put in a sixth attacker.
Thus, Nebo Bandovic's two first-quarter goals held up behind the fine goalkeeping of Slobo Ilijevski, who made 19 saves on 29 shots.
On his first goal, Bandovic was ahead of the field when he took a lead pass from Ilijevski and chipped the ball past Toth, who came way out of the net to try to cut down Bandovic's angle.
With 10 seconds to play in the quarter, Bandovic lined a right-footer into what was basically an empty net because Toth had to come out on Ade Coker.
"The effort was there, but we have to use what is between the ears a little more," Crow said. "We gave them two goals."
And that is something the Sockers can no longer afford to do.
Juli Veee, who suffered a sprained right knee March 14, could play as soon as Saturday night against Tacoma. Branko Segota (fractured right cheekbone against St. Louis April 10) could play within two weeks with a protective mask that has to be approved by the Major Indoor Soccer League office. "The mask cannot constitute injury to another player," said Bill Taylor, Socker trainer. Brian Quinn (sprained right knee Feb. 20) is probably out for the season. "I'm not at all happy with his progress," Taylor said. "He's not responding well. He's not running yet. It's taking longer than it should." Hugo Perez (sprained right knee March 8) is "a ways away," said Taylor. "I'm feeling much better," Perez said. "I'll wait two weeks, and if I can't play then, I'll miss the rest of the season." Brian Schmetzer (pulled right hamstring April 10) will probably miss the remainder of the season.
There was one bit of positive news for the Sockers Wednesday night. The Lazers beat the Kansas City Comets, 3-2 in triple overtime on Chris Chueden's goal. San Diego (25-22) and Kansas City (24-21) remain tied for second place in the Western Division, five games behind Tacoma and one game in front of Wichita.