Even in the best of times, the best team does not always win.
But in soccer, sometimes the best team does not even score.
That was the case Saturday night at West Torrance High, where the Los Angeles Heat once again failed to find the net and lost to visiting Real Santa Barbara, 1-0.
Santa Barbara takes a 1-0 lead in the two-game series in the opening round of the Southern Division playoffs of the American Professional Soccer League West. The teams meet again Monday in Santa Barbara, with a 30-minute mini-game scheduled to decided the series should the Heat win. The mini-game would be played immediately following Monday's final. The winner travels to play the California Emperors in Redlands on Saturday.
Actually, they might still be playing Saturday's game, or, at least, it could have come down to penalty kicks had it not been for what appeared to be a questionable call by referee Thomas Bobapilla. The call indirectly led the Santa Barbara goal.
Bobapilla issued seven yellow cards and a red card during the game (not to mention 44 fouls), but it was what he did following a foul that might have cost the Heat in the 68th minute.
Standing to the right of the goal about 20 yards out, Bobapilla stopped play on an infraction and turned to Heat defender Danny Pena. According to Pena and others, Bobapilla told Pena, who was protesting the call, to calm down. Defender Dale Ervine then stepped out of position to ask Bobapilla what was up.
Santa Barbara's Cesar Plasencia, restarting without a whistle, kicked the ball to former West High standout Paul Krumpe, who chipped the ball through the spot where Ervine had been. The ball got to Joey Bilotta, who flicked it to Jim Huchingson. Heat goalie Mike Littman came out to confront Huchingson, whose shot glanced off Littman's legs. Somehow the ball rebounded past three Heat players and crossed the goal line.
The controversial, whistle-less restart drew several complaints from the teams.
"It was a bad call," Heat assistant Coach Bobby Britton said.
"The ref had stopped to talk to Dale. The referee lost control of the game early and he tried to take control by using cards."
Bobapilla refused to comment pending a report to the league.
Although Santa Barbara Coach Valery Volostnyth said he did not see the entire play, he also questioned the call.
"I don't like to see any team win on a questionable play," he said. "I prefer a good game."
Said Ervine: "The ref pulled Pena aside and told him to calm down. I went over to see what was happening and the ball was played. It should not have been played, but the bottom line tonight, we didn't do the things we needed to do to win."
The Heat outshot Santa Barbara, 11-4, but lost forward Waldir Guerra midway through the first half after he collided with a teammate on a header. He suffered a bump on his head and bruised his thigh.
The loss of Guerra changed the makeup of the Heat's front line. Guerra was replaced by defender Thor Lee, who did a credible job, particularly flicking balls into the attacking area. But according to Guerra, "There was just no one to cover the space when Thor flicked it."
The Heat might have a few things working in its favor Monday night. It has never lost in Santa Barbara in two seasons and it has a better road record (6-4) than home record (5-6).
"We have to go after them up there," Littman said.
Said forward Jeff Hooker: "This changes the nature of the game. We have to attack them Monday and they can lay back in defense and wait."