SAN DIEGO — For the second time in three years, a Yugoslavian buddy and young disciple of Tacoma Star forward Steve Zungul won the most valuable player award in the Major Indoor Soccer League All-Star Game.
Two years ago, it was Socker midfielder Branko Segota, then 24. Wednesday night, it was Zungul's 24-year-old Tacoma Star teammate, Preki.
Once again, Zungul, 33, playing in his record eighth All-Star Game, was denied one of the only honors that has eluded him. He recently was named MISL player of the decade.
And although the selection of Preki as MVP was by a unanimous vote by the media, it created a little bit of a stir between Preki and Zungul, who have been feuding off and on all season. They have been friends for years and were roommates for a season with the Stars.
Preki scored a hat trick, including two early goals that got the West going in its 9-3 victory, and he created numerous scoring opportunities.
"I thought I deserved it tonight," Preki said. "I thought I played very well, especially in the first half of the game."
Zungul, the leading scorer in all-star history with 13 goals and 6 assists for 19 points, had two goals, including one on an exciting bicycle kick, and an assist.
He might very well have had another goal if Preki had passed to him on a wide-open opportunity with 1:15 to play.
"He should have passed the ball," Zungul said. "He can finish. I can finish. . . . I would have gotten the MVP."
Said Preki: "The goal was wide open. I first think about tapping the ball to Stevie, but the goalkeeper (sixth attacker David Byrne) moved and left me the whole net. I couldn't miss."
In terms of their relationship, it was a big play. But in terms of the MVP award, ballots from 11 members of the media were collected with three minutes left to play, which was before Preki scored his last goal and before Zungul scored his second.
"It's OK," Zungul said, laughing. "It's nothing unusual for me. I've been chasing this thing for so many years. It looks like it is written for me to be second in the MVP. I'm always runner-up in MVP. That's fine."
The debate did not end with Preki and Zungul.
"Personally, I think Mike Dowler should have been the MVP," said fellow goalkeeper Chris Vaccaro of the Chicago Sting.
Tacoma's Dowler allowed just 1 goal and made 15 saves on 20 shots in the second half, including three great saves during an East power play in the fourth quarter.
But this night belonged to the Yugo duo.
"Steve played a very good game," Preki said. "He deserved the MVP, too."
Second best: The crowd of 17,251 at the Tacoma Dome was the second largest in all-star history, behind the 17,863 at the 1985 game hosted by the Cleveland Force at the Richfield Coliseum.
First impressions: After attending his first all-star league meetings, Socker president Ron Cady said: "I'm impressed with some of the new ownership and the old ownership. I'm happy with what was accomplished. I'm impressed that we're united."