SAN DIEGO — No, the Sockers did not suffer their first shutout at home despite being held scoreless by St. Louis for more than three quarters Saturday night.
That was the positive news for the crowd of 8,869 fans at the San Diego Sports Arena, where the Sockers lost, 4-2, to a most unlikely opponent. And the game wasn't nearly as close as the final score might indicate.
"We had the New Year's blues," Socker Coach Ron Newman said. "We had so many players below par today, and they worked hard. They had nothing to lose."
The Sockers came into Saturday's game with the best record in the Major Indoor Soccer League at 12-5, a five-game winning streak and a 6-0 home record.
In addition, Socker goalkeeper Zoltan Toth, who was excellent with 18 saves on 28 shots, had won six straight and had a league-leading 2.21 goals-against average.
The Steamers entered the game with a 6-10 mark and a 1-7 record on the road and were playing without their star and leading scorer, Nebo (20 goals and 8 assists), who is out while rehabilitating his strained right knee.
And the Steamers had allowed the third most goals in the league at 83. Goalkeeper Slobo Ilijevski, a standout with 17 saves on 30 shots Saturday, had a 4.57 goals-against average coming into the game.
"It's hard when everyone wants to beat you," said Socker midfielder Branko Segota. "When we don't come to play 100%, it will be tough."
In a game in which the Sockers were called for six penalties and the Steamers for five, the Sockers failed to score a power-play goal and the Steamers converted on two such opportunities.
"They (Sockers) lost their heads in frustration, and they got silly penalties," Newman said.
St. Louis led, 1-0, after the first quarter on a rebound goal by forward Boki Bandovic. The Steamers led, 2-0, at halftime on a power-play goal by midfielder John Bain at 14:43 of the second quarter. The Steamers extended their lead to 3-0 on Daryl Doran's goal at 3:53 of the third quarter.
San Diego had an excellent opportunity to score when it was awarded a shootout at 8:36 of the third quarter because Bain tripped Brian Quinn when Quinn was ahead of the field. However, with Segota--who regularly takes the shootout--in the penalty box, Quinn was selected to go one-on-one with Ilijevski.
In a shootout, the offensive player starts at the opponent's red line and has five seconds to try to score against only the goalkeeper. Quinn's right-footer was wide right and time expired before he could get off another shot.
The Sockers, who lead the league with 54 penalties, picked up their fourth of the third quarter when defender Fernando Clavijo was called for obstruction. This time, the Steamers converted. Forward Poli Garcia made it 4-0 at 12:54.
The only real suspense after that was whether the Sockers, playing with a sixth attacker instead of a goalkeeper throughout the fourth quarter, would score.
Segota scored at 2:39. Zoran Karic made it 4-2 with 1:17 remaining. So although the Sockers avoided their first shutout at home, they did pick up their first loss at home this season.
Contract updates: Ron Cady, Socker president, said he has sent a multi-year contract for Hugo Perez to Perez's agent, Mike Hogue. Perez becomes a free agent June 30, and he has said he is seriously considering playing outdoor soccer in Europe after this season. "We're very interested in Hugo," Cady said. "We're proceeding with offering him a multi-year contract. We want to tie him up." Cady said Perez wants to resolve his contractual situation by the end of January. Perez, the team's second-leading scorer with 10 goals and 14 assists for 24 points, missed Saturday's game with a hamstring strain suffered against Wichita Tuesday. Cady added that he is in the midst of negotiations with agent Scott Simpson about a new contract for defender Fernando Clavijo, who becomes a free agent Sept. 30. As for defender Kevin Crow, who asked to be traded earlier this season, Cady said he has contacted teams around the league and has not received an adequate offer for Crow, who becomes a free agent May 30. Cady added that he hopes Crow will remain a Socker, but Crow said he has not reconsidered his request to be traded. However, Crow did say, "It's almost 100% I'll be here through the season."