RICHFIELD, Ohio — Trailing, 4-0, with just 10:19 remaining in regulation play, the Sockers came up with their best clutch performance of the season before dropping a 5-4 double-overtime decision Sunday afternoon to the Cleveland Crunch.
"It's never over until it's over," said victorious Crunch Player-Coach Kai Haaskivi, who watched from the bench as his team struggled to come up with the victory.
The loss, at the Richfield Coliseum in front of 4,335 fans, was the Sockers 12th in 15 road games this season. It snapped a four-game winning streak against the expansion Crunch. Two of the Sockers three road victories came against the Crunch. The third was against the expansion St. Louis Storm.
After building a 4-0 lead against the Sockers, with just 10:19 remaining in regulation play, the Crunch was forced into double overtime before team captain Mike Sweeney sent the Sockers packing with a power-play goal just 1:54 into the second overtime.
Sweeney, who had crossed from the left of the Sockers' goal to the corner of the Sockers' penalty area, took a pass from teammate Pato Margetic and then took three steps toward the middle line before firing a shot from straight on past goalie Zoltan Toth.
While Sweeney was the building's happiest occupant after the team's victory lap around the Coliseum carpet, the most unhappy was Sockers' Coach Ron Newman, who was trying to find justification for a two-minute tripping penalty handed defender Branko Segota by referee Casey Frankewicz with just one second remaining in the first overtime.
After the contest ended, Newman charged onto the field and ran up to Frankewicz, grabbing his hand and shaking it. "It was bloody - - - - - - - -," Newman said, of the call which gave the Crunch a man-advantage in the second overtime.
"I shook his hand and said to him, 'Congratulations on your win.' The man totally forgot the main rule of calling a penalty as opposed to just a simple foul--a player's intent. That was the worst time he could have made a call like that. If he wants to call it a foul, fine. But pulling a card with just one second left is bloody B.S."
The Crunch jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first half, with defender Bernie James scoring at 3:49 of the first quarter, with a shot from 15-feet out.
Sweeney then added a goal at 6:44 of the opening quarter, with a 15-footer straight on off a pass from Michael King.
The Crunch then scored again at 5:54 of the third quarter, with Hector Marinaro bouncing the ball off Toth and into the net from five-feet away. Michael King then scored his 30th goal of the season with 4:41 gone in the fourth quarter, giving the Crunch a 4-0 lead.
The next 10 minutes will remain in the mind of Haaskivi for a long time, as the Sockers scored four goals over a 5:25 period to tie the score at 4-4, sending the game into overtime.
Midfielder Thien Nguyen got it started with his first goal of the season, at 6:13 of the fourth quarter. Cacho then followed with the Sockers' second goal at 9:45, followed by Steve Zungul's third goal of the season, at 10:40. Then came Zoran Karic's game-tieing effort from 10-feet out to the left of Crunch goalie P.J. Johns, which deflected off Johns with just 3:17 remaining in regulation.
"We got caught looking," Haaskivi admitted. "They're a great team and great teams never quit. I saw my worst nightmare happening right before my eyes and I felt a little helpless.
"But I couldn't be prouder of the way we responded in the overtime. We sucked it up and went out and played determined soccer at a time we needed a total team effort.
"I can't say we were exactly thrilled with a few calls ourselves. When Zungul scored their third goal, they had seven players on the field and didn't get caught. We argued with the officials, but nothing was changed."