SAN DIEGO — The Wichita Wings went to the Sports Arena Friday night and--surprise--an indoor soccer game broke out.
Which isn't good if you're the league's most physical team, No. 1 in fouls and penalty minutes.
While matching the Wings much of the game cheap shot for cheap shot, the Sockers broke loose during a brief span in the third quarter for two of the most skillful goals of the past few seasons.
The Sockers eventually won, 7-2, their 10th victory in a row. That gave the Sockers the second longest winning streak in club history.
Paul Wright scored three goals to tie Wichita's Dale Ervine for the league lead with 35. It is the first time since the 1987-88 season that a Socker has had at least a share of that lead this late in a season. Branko Segota led the league in goals after 24 games in 87-88.
This time it wasn't the Sockers' superior shooting, precise passing or even quick counter-attacks that won it for them.
This time the Sockers won with good dribbling skills.
First Ben Collins took the ball down the middle of the field before passing to Jacques Ladouceur, who tucked the ball behind goalie Scott Manning. Then it was Wright who carried the ball into the goal mouth before passing to Thompson Usiyan on the right. Usiyan gave the ball right back and Wright didn't miss.
"It was brilliant," said Coach Ron Newman. "And that's a dangerous place to take the ball. They were two great goals from an individual standpoint."
Collins' run began near the defensive red line. He made it past three defenders before giving the pass to Ladouceur at the right post.
"Wichita has a habit of coming at you too fast," Collins said. "I pretty much knew what Kim Roentved and David Byrne were going to do, and once I slipped by them, I knew all I had to do was give Jacques the pass and he would score."
That came 5:43 into the second half. Less than two minutes later, Wright decided to impersonate Collins.
"After I saw Benny, I decided if he can do it, I'll give it a shot," Wright said. "And luckily it worked out."
The goals seemed to drain Wichita's energy. No longer were the Wings defending with abandon.
"After those two goals, you could see (the Wings') heads hang," Newman said. "I thought that was the killer punch."
Once the Sockers regained control of the ball after Wright's goal, they held onto it for two minutes in their defensive midfield, trying to lure Wichita out of its shell. The Wings, however, had seen enough and refused to attack.
The Wings (13-12) have lost four in a row and eight of their past 11, going from first place and a 1 1/2-game lead over the Sockers (18-6) to second place, 5 1/2 games behind.
But Wichita came out intent to turn things around. The Wings opened the scoring with a power-play goal midway through the first quarter. It came on a restart, as Chico Borja took the free kick from along the right boards and put it into the center of the field, where Steve Pittman ran onto it and left-footed a shot that got by two Socker defenders and inside the right post.
The Sockers tied it 2 minutes 26 seconds into the second quarter on what has become one of their most successful set plays. Wright and Terry Woodberry lined up on opposite sides of the ball. The opposition has to guess is which player is going to strike the ball.
Woodberry ran at it first, but did not put it into play, instead leaving it to Wright who right-footed the ball and sliced it inside the right post.
It was the fourth time that particular play has worked in the past five games.
Only two minutes later, Woodberry gave the Sockers their first lead. After taking a pass from Wright outside the red line, Woodberry dribbled once to his left to get past defender Tom Soehn. When he caught up to the ball at the left point, Woodberry used his powerful left foot. The shot weaved between three defenders before bouncing in off the right post.
The lead didn't last long. Wichita's Dale Ervine, showing no sign of the tendinitis in his left knee, fought off three Sockers in the penalty area before finding a clearing from which to shoot just off the left post. Ervine, who appeared to bat the ball down before striking it into the net, was loudly booed by the 7,764 in attendance. He showed the crowd up by jumping on the boards in celebration.
Before Friday's game, Coach Ron Newman said he was concerned that the All-Star break might have robbed his team of its momentum. The Sockers had won nine in a row. "I think that's something we must concern ourselves with," Newman said. "I think in the past, the All-Star break has changed momentum. The players spend the week gearing up to play in it, and then it's all over. That might take players off their game; they might feel they have nothing more to prove right away."