SAN DIEGO — The ball bounced ever so nicely off the forehead of Ralph Black, who glided down the right sideline to meet a pass from Victor Nogueira.
Zoran Karic, almost unnoticed, slipped between Baltimore Blast defenders Ken Fogarty and Rusty Troy. The ball glanced off Troy's chest. Karic gave it a swift ride with his right foot. Scott Manning, Baltimore's reliable goalie, never had a chance. The ball settled nicely in the back of the net.
That was how things went for the Sockers in Friday's game, which ended in a 5-2 victory. Game 3 of the Major Indoor Soccer League championships is in hand, along with a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.
Several times during the semifinal series with Dallas, the Sockers' offense looked in dire need of a checkup. It was, quite simply, listless.
The team that showed up Friday before 11,484 at the San Diego Sports Arena deserves a clean bill of health. It had spunk and vigor.
"I think our movement was good, and they missed a couple of the defensive plays," Branko Segota said. "We were in the right place at the right time."
And so it went as the Sockers did a tap dance on Baltimore's title plans. All the dots connected. Every goal had an even tempo, a pleasant ring.
Segota, sidelined for both Baltimore games with his ever-persistent hamstring injury, returned in style to score one of the game's snappiest goals. Brian Quinn sent a scorching pass off the top of the glass to the right of the Blast goal. Segota, ready and waiting, drilled it past Manning on the rebound.
"I moved in there, and I was surprised nobody followed me," Segota said. "I was all alone."
Quinn's footwork and shot is beginning to regain its early-season zest. He started things up for the Sockers and finished them off, scoring 3:27 into the first quarter off a crossing pass from Segota and again in the fourth, on Steve Zungul's cross. The Sockers have now won 15 of 17 playoff games in which Quinn has scored at least a point.
Quinn's biggest problem came before the game as he attempted to get tickets for some soccer fans he met on the plane. Nobody had any. He finally found some, then did his best to make sure they enjoyed it.
But the goals don't mean that much to Quinn.
"If you get a goal and an assist, it's much easier for people to recognize me," he said. "But that doesn't really matter to me. I'm involved in the game whether I score or not."
Paul Dougherty was the other first-half scorer, picking up his second goal of the series by taking a deflection off two Blast defenders and sending it to the right corner of the goal with his left foot.
"I think that was the best goal of the game," Quinn said.
Baltimore never posed a serious threat, trailing, 4-0, at halftime and managing only one goal (Billy Ronson's in the third quarter) before putting in a sixth attacker. David Byrne, who served as the sixth attacker, scored with 2:17 remaining.
So the victory was convincing. So much so that Coach Ron Newman may have trouble making anybody believe that the Sockers are underdogs anymore. He gave a little hint that he doesn't fully believe that Thursday, winking to the audience at an MISL luncheon when Blast Coach Kenny Cooper was asking what a lot of people are wondering: Why should the six-time champion Sockers be underdogs?
Newman is sticking to it.
"Oh, we're still the underdogs," he said. "Absolutely. Underdogs can win, can't they."
DAVE DISTEL Some said Steve Zungul would burden the Sockers in '89. Boy, were they wrong. Page 11A.