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With Fresh Start, Sockers Depending on a New Attitude

September 29, 1987|MARC APPLEMAN | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — When the Sockers started training camp Monday afternoon, former Los Angeles Lazer defender Gus Mokalis was the team's only new acquisition.

Mokalis is an experienced and strong defender, but one new player is not exactly the type of overhaul Coach Ron Newman alluded to the day after the Sockers' streak of five consecutive championships was ended by Tacoma last spring. He said then his club needed "fresh, new blood and new vitality."

Midfielder Brian Quinn sees the same team . . . and the same problems.

"There were going to be drastic changes," he said, "but nothing happened. Nothing has happened to make me think things will be different. If we have the same players and the attitudes persist, we have to clean house. It's easier to change players than attitudes."

Defender Kevin Crow says it's essential that the players focus together as a team if the Sockers are to regain the championship.

"It's not a question of talent, it's attitudes," Crow said. "I think we have the talent and nucleus to be able to compete for the title. It will come down to what's in the heart. It could be an exciting, 'Let's-prove-it-again, go-get-them attitude.' That would be super.

"Or it could be, 'I want to make sure I get my 50 to 60 points.' And that would cause a lot of problems again."

Midfielder Waad Hirmez: "Everyone wanted to do it themselves. In the past years, we stuck together as a team. We need a leader. Last year, nobody was in charge. I'm hoping that Branko (Segota) will come out and take charge."

Segota, frustrated by injuries and contract negotiations last season, signed a three-year contract Sept.8. As the team's leading scorer the past two seasons and one of the budding superstars in the Major Indoor Soccer League, Segota is being counted on for big things this season.

"I don't think last year was Branko's best by any stretch of the imagination," Newman said. "He didn't seem to be totally committed to all the games. I'm hoping we'll get a more consistent performance from Branko this year."

Bob Bell, Socker general partner, and Newman say there might be more personnel changes before the Sockers' open the regular season against Wichita Nov. 7.

"We're not finished yet," Newman said. "I might be a little surprised if we don't make changes by the time the roster is completed."

Trades are not likely, though. Newman's ability to change the team is limited in that regard because the Socker veterans have guaranteed contracts with trade-approval clauses.

And because the Sockers came within a game of getting to the championship series despite several injuries, Bell and Newman are hesitant to break up what is an aging, but still very talented team.

In order to try and avoid injuries and have a healthier team, Newman plans to put the Sockers through a tougher conditioning program in the preseason. Newman and Bell will also take a close look at young players on the Socker reserve team and at the 13 try-out invitees who survived the first cut after this weekend's trial camp.

"I'm not totally satisfied (with the Socker personnel)," Bell said. "I think some other changes could be made. I want to see how everyone performs in the next few weeks in training camp.

"The door is still open if the right opportunity comes up. I think a lot of our players will be threatened by the young guys. There is some young talent pushing our bottom players."

Newman said it is possible that by the end of camp a few of the free agents and players from the reserve team might make the roster.

But as camp opened, most of the experienced and established veterans did not exactly feel threatened.

"As long as I see these lazy, little nothings running around," said 37-year old Juli Veee, "I feel confident. It's atrocious that these 24- and 25-year olds can't put one foot in front of the other and they (the Sockers) call that talent. They should be ashamed."

Newman signed a five-year contract extention after last season and spent most of the summer vacationing in England.

"If Ron (Newman) comes in with a fresh approach and gets the players behind him," Quinn said, "things will go well." While in Europe, Newman also went on a week scouting trip to Yugoslavia, where he found two players who he has invited to try out with the Sockers next week.

Alekandra Filopvich, 24, (known as Kader) played for the New York Arrows before the team folded last season.

Newman hasn't seen the second player and isn't sure of his name, but he has invited him on the recommendation of a Yugoslavian agent, Branko Perananovic.

"I said I need a special player," Newman said. "Someone with the power of Branko Segota, ability to hold the ball like Stan Stamenkovic and the ball skills of Hugo Perez. I might be asking too much."

Newman will be able to see for himself next week.

As for dealing with his returning veterans, who often criticize him, Newman doesn't have any new game plan.

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