WICHITA, Kan. — It should have been a nice moment for Jean Willrich. During any of his past nine seasons, it would have been.
But Willrich's game-winning goal Saturday night against the Sockers left the veteran midfielder apologetic.
"I felt sorry for the guys," Willrich said of his former teammates after his new team, the Wichita Wings, defeated the Sockers, 5-3, in the season opener for both teams in front of a sellout crowd of 9,674 at the Kansas Coliseum.
Willrich, who began the week as San Diego's team captain, ran over to his best friend on the Sockers, Brian Quinn, and apologized for his goal, which broke a 3-3 tie with 2:25 left in the game.
"I didn't like to do it (score the game-winner), but I have to do my job," said Willrich.
Willrich had spent the previous nine seasons with the Sockers. But last Tuesday, he was dealt to the Wings to help the Sockers slip below the Major Indoor Soccer League's salary cap of $1.275 million per team.
"That's usually the way the script is written after you trade a player," Socker Coach Ron Newman said of Willrich's winning goal. "It just proves I'm right, because I never wanted to let him go in the first place."
Willrich's game-winner came off a pass across the penalty box from Wichita's Mickey Thomas. Willrich slipped past a charging Fernando Clavijo and drove the ball into the left corner of the goal.
"Jean has done that so often for us," said Quinn. "I'm really happy for him."
As the teams were being introduced before the game, Willrich, who received the loudest ovation, said he became emotional, looking at the opposing team and realizing these were people he "loves."
"At the beginning of the game, there were tears in my eyes," said Willrich, who remains bitter toward Socker management for making the trade, which gave the Sockers two third-round draft picks. "When I looked over at Brian, he was biting his teeth, too."
The way the Wings played early was reason enough to make the Sockers sad. Wichita dominated a flat Socker team, outshooting San Diego, 35-21. Socker goalkeeper Zoltan Toth had 17 saves in the game. Wichita's Mike Kennedy had eight.
The Sockers didn't begin to look like the team that had dominated the league in previous years until midway through the second period. They scored twice before the end of the opening half.
But the rest of the game, the Sockers seemed to be missing something. Maybe it was the loss of Willrich. Or maybe it was the absence of the team's top scorer last season, Branko Segota, who didn't make the trip to Wichita because of a pulled hamstring.
Newman said there was a chance Segota could have played Saturday night, but it wasn't worth taking a chance on aggravating the injury this early in the season. He is expected to return for next Saturday's game against Kansas City at home.
"I didn't think we had enough firepower without Segota," Newman said of the veteran midfielder who had 34 goals and 41 assists last season.
The Sockers blew several scoring opportunities, including three wide scoring attempts in the final minute.
San Diego scored its first goal with 9:56 left to play in the second period when Quinn scored on a power play from the left boards. San Diego got the player advantage when Wichita's Frank Rasmussen was charged with a two-minute penalty for tripping 5-foot 2-inch Paul Dougherty.
Quinn scored seven seconds into the power play on a pass from midfielder Hugo Perez, tying the score, 1-1.
The revitalized Sockers stayed aggressive throughout the second period, scoring again with 22 seconds left in the half. Quinn took a pass at the top of the key from Juli Veee on a re-start and kicked a hard-rolling shot between the legs of Wing goalkeeper Matt Kennedy to put the Sockers ahead, 2-1.
Wichita tied it on a power play when Dave Hoggan scored on a rebound from five feet out after Erik Rasmussen's shot went wide.
The Wings were provided the power play when rookie Hormoz Tabrizi fouled Frank Rasmussen near the right boards in front of Wichita's goal, giving the Sockers their sixth penalty of the third period.