SAN DIEGO — Steve Zungul was getting all the attention Wednesday night. Reporters were bunched around the 34-year-old forward following the Sockers' 7-4 victory over Dallas in the opener of the Major Indoor Soccer League Playoffs at the San Diego Sports Arena.
Socker defender Kevin Crow, for one, was trying to figure the size of the crowd hanging onto Zungul's every word.
"It's the accent," said Crow to teammate Ralph Black, laughing. "If we had the accent. . . . "
It's the thick Yugoslavian accent, and a lot more.
Zungul scored twice. He also had three assists. This is his 10th appearance in the playoffs, and he's not feeling too badly. Not old. Not tired. Just ready.
"I can play," Zungul said. "It always depends on if my hips feel good. I feel good."
Zungul's second goal, on which he volleyed a crossing pass from Crow, gave the Sockers a 5-3 cushion, and subsequent goals by Branko Segota and Brian Quinn iced it. The Sockers are now 8-0 in opening games of the playoffs.
Newman hinted last week that Zungul may turn out to be a surprise. There's a little spring in the veteran's step, and he appears to be in his top condition of the season.
"He can be a dark horse for us," Newman said. "I had a funny feeling it would be him who would do it (tonight)."
Zungul says he turns up his game a notch for postseason play. But the funny thing about these MISL playoff games is the fans don't seem to share his enthusiasm. How else do you explain Wednesday's paid attendance of 6,483, lowest since Dec. 17?
Appropriately, the game was fairly sloppy after the three-week layoff.
"It was like the first game of the season," Newman said. "I had a funny feeling we might have a letdown. I think that was our most difficult game. We'll get better from now on."
Zungul's performance helped neutralize damage done by Dallas midfielder Kevin Smith, who scored a hat trick. Smith's final goal came in the third quarter, at a time when it appeared the Sockers were poised to put the game away.
The Sockers had a 4-3 lead at halftime but scored five goals in that period. One just happened to be on the wrong end of the carpet.
First quarter, five minutes gone. Smith passes into the middle of the penalty box, and Socker defender George Fernandez intercepts. Problem. Fernandez re-directs the ball to the left of goalie Victor Nogueira. Goal. Credit Smith. Sidekicks 1, Sockers 0.
"I read it, but I just got mixed up under my own steps," Fernandez said.
Fernandez wastes no time taking out his frustration, kicking the glass with his right foot as several fans flinch quickly back into their seats.
Two Socker scores later, the Sidekicks earned one. And then another. On the first, forward Tatu shot off the boards, and Mark Karpun, positioned perfectly for the rebound, touched it in before Nogueira could react to his left. As if to say "Thanks," he gave Nogueira a little pat on the stomach and ran off to celebrate his accomplishment with a few teammates.
Just more than a minute later, with 11:26 remaining in the half, Smith scored his second, giving Dallas a 3-2 edge.
Fittingly, it was Zungul who got the Sockers started. A Segota shot was deflected by Sidekick goalie Krys Sobieski, and Zungul followed from short range with a left-footed goal.
Five minutes later, Tatu had barely stopped laughing at the referee's call when Zoran Karic punched in a penalty shot to give the Sockers an early 2-1 lead. Tatu was penalized for tripping Karic, though Karic could probably be credited with an above-average acting job.
Waad Hirmez wrapped the first-half scoring with a goal off a Zungul free kick.
Because of a collective bargaining agreement agreed to following last year's financial difficulties, all seven MISL teams will receive a percentage of the gate receipts from league playoff games. Payments will be staggered according to the team's final post-playoff standing. The decision, according to Socker President Ron Cady, was made to help ensure each franchise financial stability for next season. . . . Wednesday's game marked the first time the Sockers and Sidekicks have met in the playoffs. . . . In 23 regular season matches with Dallas, the Sockers hold an 18-5 edge, 11-1 at the Sports Arena. . . . Including outdoor competition, the Sockers have won 20 championships in their 11-year history in San Diego.