SAN DIEGO — The Sockers proved to themselves and their coach Sunday night in front of 9,802 at the San Diego Sports Arena that when push comes to shove they aren't afraid to push and shove.
They pushed and shoved the Cleveland Crunch (7-6). They even pushed and shoved each other. And when the scrap was over, the Sockers (7-7) had halted a two-game losing streak with a 6-3 victory, leaving them 1 1/2 games behind first place Dallas in the Western Division of the Major Indoor Soccer League.
Bad to good in 24 hours.
Socker Coach Ron Newman used the word nightmare to describe Saturday's 4-1 loss at Dallas. Sunday was more of a dream.
"We showed up tonight and played some of the best stuff we've played all year," he said. "What we saw there is that the Sockers are capable of doing it. All the ingredients are there."
Including a dash of spice.
As the first quarter ended in a 1-1 tie--defender Kevin Crow scored for the Sockers after midfielder Mike Sweeney scored for Cleveland--Socker midfielder Waad Hirmez and veteran forward Steve Zungul exchanged a few heated words on the bench. And a quick shove.
"I'd rather not comment on it," Hirmez said. "I think it's between Steve and myself."
Apparently, this was a disagreement over strategy, which has happened between the two in the past. In the playoffs in Dallas last season, Zungul and Hirmez got in a similar argument that ended with Newman stepping between them before things escalated.
But Sunday, most of the Sockers' aggression was directed at the Crunch. With 6:01 remaining in the third quarter and the Sockers leading, 3-2, defender George Fernandez was assessed a two-minute penalty for grabbing hold of midfielder Charley Greene.
Then, after Fernandez had done his time, defender Ralph Black, playing his first game since Nov. 22 when he sprained his ankle against Wichita, crunched into Crunch midfielder Mike Sweeney with 46 seconds remaining in the quarter. Tweet. Two minutes.
OK. Now it gets complicated. As time ran out in the third quarter, Hirmez and Sweeney were each given two minutes for exchanging kicks that connected with each other rather than the ball. So when the fourth quarter began, Cleveland had four field players and the Sockers had three. With two seconds remaining to be served on Black's penalty, Crunch midfielder Michael King took a pass from forward Hector Marinaro and scored to tie it 3-3. Thirteen minutes, 47 seconds remained in the game.
Then, with the banging and bumping out of the way, the Sockers got goals from Cacho (4:13), Jacques Ladouceur (10:06) and Hirmez (14:23) to wrap things up. It pleased Newman no end. He placed a great deal of importance on this game.
"You say a pretty desperate team here tonight," he said. "We couldn't afford three losses in a row."
Particularly since the Sockers play their next three games on the road and don't return home until Jan. 5 against Tacoma.
Noteworthy in this game was that Newman opted to make full use of his veteran players in an attempt to bring back some of the cohesiveness of last season. Forward Jim Gabarra, in his first year with the Sockers, didn't suit up. Rookie defender Donald Cogsville didn't play and rookie midfielder Rod Castro, who is second on the team in scoring with nine goals, played sparingly.
"One of the problems is our starting players haven't been playing enough time," Crow said. "You can't always wait for certain players to come on. Half of this game is counter attacking."
It was on the counter attack that the Sockers took a 2-1 lead in the second quarter. Midfielder Branko Segota took a pass from goalie Zoltan Toth, volleyed it to himself over the head of forward Bobo Lucic and passed into the middle to forward Zoran Karic, who drilled it in with his right foot before it touched the carpet.
Defender George Fernandez, who suffered a concussion Saturday night against Dallas, was cleared to play before the game. Coach Ron Newman said he waited for the word from the doctor before putting Fernandez in the lineup because: "He'd play even if his head was caved in." True enough. Fernandez hold the team record with 94 consecutive games played.