DALLAS — While high-scoring Socker forward Zoran Karic ate popcorn in a seat three rows from the back of Reunion Arena Friday, the Dallas Sidekicks tried desperately to take another bite out of the Sockers' title defense.
Suffice it to say, the third game of this Major Indoor Soccer League semifinal series was not only a little strange, it was a hockey game without ice. A total of eight players were told to take seats for two-minute penalties.
But when the final tripping and misconduct penalties were served, the Sockers grabbed a 5-4 overtime victory for a 2-1 advantage in the best-of-seven-series that will continue tonight at 5:35.
It took a left-footed shot from Waad Hirmez, which snuck into the right corner of the goal with 44 seconds left in regulation, to give the Sockers their opportunity.
Then, in overtime, it took a little magic from the Yugoslavian veterans, Branko Segota and Steve Zungul. Segota advanced the ball down the right side, waiting. The defenders closed. Zungul slipped down the left sideline. Segota passed. Bang. Silence from 6,250 fans with 3:48 left in overtime, and a Socker celebration.
"Geez, what a game," Socker Coach Ron Newman said. "That's playoff stuff."
Which brings us to Karic. He wasn't in Newman's doghouse or anything. Newman kept him out in favor of the rough boys he felt would be needed if the Sockers were to go the distance.
Karic, the Sockers' leading goal-scorer (37) during the regular season, is long on skill but short on bulk. So Alan Willey, a 32-year-old veteran with 20 extra pounds, got the nod.
"We're not looking better than them with a little finesse, so I thought we had better get in there with Alan Willey and (Chris) Chueden," Newman said.
Added defender Kevin Crow: "In the playoffs, a lot of games aren't as pretty as the regular season. If you look at it, Allen fits that better than Zoran."
The roughhousing started early in the second quarter, when Tatu scored his first goal of the series. The Sockers, particularly defender George Fernandez and midfielder Brian Quinn, didn't think it was a goal at all.
Tatu caught Socker goalie Victor Nogueira slightly out of position and took a short crossing shot. The ball hit the right post and bounced back, rolling along the white line. The red light went on, indicating a Sidekick goal. Fernandez and Quinn went off shortly thereafter, first with words. Then, after being assessed misconduct penalties, they went off the carpet for a two-minute rest.
"You couldn't see all white," said Quinn of the goal line. "I was the closest, you just got to take my word for it."
The referees didn't.
The Sockers trailed, 2-1, at halftime, but Hirmez tied it early in the third quarter, crossing the ball just inside the right post from the left sideline.
Two Beto goals were sandwiched around a Segota penalty kick that went through the legs of Dallas defender Wes McLeod and into the left corner. Beto's second goal, which gave the Sidekicks a 4-3 advantage, came with just two seconds left in the third quarter.
The fourth quarter was filled with elbows, bruises and some swollen tempers. In one dispute, Willey went down for the count after a forearm from Richard Chinapoo. Minutes earlier, Chueden had gotten two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct after smashing into Tatu.
Tatu served the final penalty for an unsportsmanlike conduct of his own. All this didn't particularly please Sidekick Coach Billy Phillips.
"Tonight we did something the Sidekicks aren't supposed to do," he said. "We got into a game of cheap elbows and a lot of talking back and forth."
All this helped erase memories of the Sockers' horrible 2-10 overtime record during the regular season.
"The man upstairs is looking out for us now," Hirmez said. "I'm proud of myself and proud of the whole team. We really wanted it."
Now, the Sockers are guaranteed a return to San Diego. Newman said before the game he felt Friday's game would set the tone for the rest of the series.
The Sockers also proved their offense can stay around for the duration of a long game, something that has been questionable at times this season.
"It's a good sign because at least we fought," Crow said. "We're starting to lift our intensity up a little bit."
Added Zungul: "Happy ending. We didn't give up. We kept going, and we kept pushing. We just felt that we could take them."