SAN DIEGO — In what was basically a must-win game, the Sockers defeated the Tacoma Stars, 6-2, Saturday to even the best-of-seven Western Division finals at two games apiece.
"After two losses, we finally woke up," Socker midfielder Branko Segota said. "We were so quick, we created a lot of opportunities and we were all over the place. It was a beautiful game to watch."
Socker Coach Ron Newman said: "When their backs, their everything is against the wall, we seem to play our best."
Game 5 of the series will be played at 7:35 tonight in Tacoma. Game 6 will be played in San Diego Tuesday night. And a seventh game, if necessary, will be played in Tacoma Thursday night.
"Tonight was by far the best game we've played in the playoffs," Socker midfielder Juli Veee said. "This is what we talked about before the game. Have a heart. This is teamwork, what soccer is all about. It was like the chariot race in 'Ben Hur.' "
Who were the Socker heroes Saturday? Who wasn't a hero?
Branko Segota had two goals and two assists. Jean Willrich had two goals and Hugo Perez and Brian Schmetzer one each. Goalkeeper Zoltan Toth made 16 saves on 22 shots.
The crowd of 11,436 screamed, encouraged and chanted "Zolie, Zolie" from the start. And they booed former Socker Steve Zungul every time he touched the ball after a second-quarter battle for a loose ball between Zungul and Veee.
The Sockers were leading, 1-0, on a goal by Willrich when Veee's assertion of authority seemed to really get his team going.
"Steve was upset because I wouldn't let him turn," Veee said. "You can't let him have his way. This time we took it to them."
On the play, Zungul received a two-minute penalty and a yellow card for ungentlemanly conduct and Gerry Gray was given a two-minute penalty and yellow card for dissent.
Zungul, who scored both Star goals, said: "My legs won't start shaking because they're booing me. I'm sorry the fans feel they have to boo me because I was part of two of those banners out there."
Toward the end of the game, Zungul was actually smiling and orchestrating the crowd in a chorus of boos for him.
With Zungul and Gray in the penalty box, the Sockers had a 5-on-3 super power play. And on this night, the Sockers' special teams were actually special. That's a change of pace.
San Diego spent a good part of Friday's practice working on their power play and penalty-killing units. That practice paid off when the Sockers scored power play and short-handed goals and they stopped the Stars on four of five power play opportunities.
Coming into Saturday's game, San Diego was 0 for 6 on power play opportunities against Tacoma in the series. But with a two-man advantage, the Sockers scored.
Perez's left-footer from the top of the arc gave the Sockers a 2-0 lead at 7:09 of the second quarter.
Then it was time for the Sockers' penalty-killing unit to shine. San Diego had allowed Tacoma to score four goals in 12 power play opportunities. But with Schmetzer off for tripping Gregg Blasingame, the Sockers killed the penalty and got a short-handed goal by Segota.
Segota stole the ball from midfielder Ricky Davis near the Socker red line. On a two-on-one break with Fernando Clavijo, Segota tapped in the rebound of Clavijo's missed shot.
The Sockers led at halftime, 3-0.
Schmetzer scored on a right-footer off a corner kick to make it 4-0 at 3:40 of the third quarter. The Stars made it 4-1 on a penalty kick by Zungul at 4:41. Tacoma was awarded the penalty kick when Socker defender Carlos Melian was called for a hand ball in the penalty area. In Game 2 of the series, Zungul was wide on a penalty kick, but this time he blasted the ball into the upper-left corner.
Segota scored at 3:59 of the final quarter on a left-footed blast from the left wing, and he set up Willrich's second goal at 4:39.
By the time Zungul added the Stars' second goal at 12:51, the Stars were a beaten team.