SAN DIEGO — The Sockers hit rock bottom in their 9-7 loss to the Kansas City Comets Tuesday night.
And the five-time indoor champions suddenly find themselves just one loss away from the end of an era.
Kansas City has won two straight and leads the best-of-five opening-round playoff series, 2-1. Game 4 will be in the Sports Arena Sunday night at 8:05. If the Sockers win, the fifth game will be played in Kansas City Wednesday night.
In the past, the Sockers would have buried their opponent after scoring two goals in the opening four minutes and leading by three goals late in the third quarter.
But this season has been different. Very different.
But what happened Tuesday night before 7,685 at the San Diego Sports Arena left most of the Sockers almost speechless after the game.
"What can you say?," repeated Socker midfielder Branko Segota, who returned to the lineup and scored two goals after missing nine games with a fractured right cheekbone. "There's nothing to say when you lose a game like that."
Said defender Kevin Crow: "They rubbed our face in the turf in every phase of the game."
Kansas City scored seven second-half goals, including four in the final quarter.
Dale Mitchell, Jan Goossens and Pato Margetic scored two goals each for the Comets. Charlie Fajkus, Tasso Koutsoukos and Jens Busk had one each.
After Paul Dougherty gave the Sockers a 6-3 lead at 10:49 of the third quarter, the Comets scored six unanswered goals.
Goossens and Mitchell scored less than a minute apart to make it 6-5 going into the final quarter.
Then Mitchell tied it at 51 seconds of the final quarter. Margetic made it 7-6 at 4:16. And Zoltan Toth replaced Jim Gorsek in goal for the Sockers.
"Our goalkeeper was not up to par," said Socker Coach Ron Newman.
And the Comets were hitting the net from every conceivable angle.
Koutsoukos made it 8-6 at 6:30. Busk made it 9-6 at 8:19.
"The second half we played soccer the way we liked to," said Goossens. "We played the way we did a lot this season. That was the real Kansas City Comets."
Coming into Tuesday's game, the Sockers were 28-1 in home playoff games. Their only loss was to the Minnesota Strikers, 6-1, in the second game of last year's Major Indoor Soccer League championship series. Goossens and Koutsoukos were on that Striker team.
The Comets were 2-18 in the last three years when they played without Gino Schiraldi, their captain and defensive MVP.
Form took as much of a beating as the Sockers Tuesday. The Comets played without Schiraldi and the Sockers played at home, where this season they were only 16-10.
"Teams come in here a little more confident than they used to be," Crow said.
This time, the Sockers did not have injuries as an excuse to fall back.
San Diego played with all their offensive players healthy. Branko Segota, Juli Veee, Hugo Perez and Brian Quinn were all in the lineup.
It has been a long time--Feb. 20 against Baltimore--since the Sockers' main offensive threats were all healthy and on the field at the same time.
It has been an even longer time since the Sockers scored four goals in the opening quarter of a game. The date was April 12, 1986 against St. Louis in the second game of the opening round of the playoffs.
The last time the Sockers scored five goals in the first half was against Wichita Jan. 24. And the last time they scored at least six goals in a home game was against New York Feb. 15.
"It's a mystery," said Newman. "We dominated the game, but every ball they shot went in."