FULLERTON — Forget syrupy, oh-so-close sentiments. After the expansion Salsa blew a one-goal lead and lost the American Professional Soccer League final to defending champion Colorado, 3-1, in overtime Saturday night, Salsa owner Dr. William De La Pena blasted Coach Rildo Menezes and said there will be a coaching shake-up before next season.
Menezes yanked Paulinho, the APSL's most valuable player, with four minutes left in regulation as the Salsa led, 1-0, in front of 10,743 in Titan Stadium.
Then, with the Salsa less than three minutes away from a championship, Colorado's Ted Eck scored, sending the game into a 30-minute overtime session and De La Pena into a tizzy.
What was wrong with Paulinho?
"Nothing," De La Pena snapped. "It was a mistake in the coaching in my opinion. He took him out at the wrong time.
"Just say the owner says it was a mistake in taking out Paulinho. Period."
De La Pena, an eye doctor, quickly made it clear that Menezes is about as popular as cataracts within the organization these days.
"I'm not going to say that Rildo won't be back," De La Pena said. "But there will be changes in the coaching staff next year. Period."
Menezes defended inserting Arut Karapetyan for Paulinho, saying that with a one-goal lead, he wanted to beef up the Salsa defense.
"I don't think it was a mistake," Menezes insisted. "Paulinho was tired."
Paulinho left quickly and was unavailable for comment.
Many players who did stay were tight-lipped.
"I have no comment," goalkeeper Ian Feuer said. "I'm not going to say nothing, but he's the MVP in the league. That's all I can say."
Said defender Thor Lee: "I can't make a comment on that decision. Those are decisions that the coaches make. Arut Karapetyan, he's not Paulinho. You can second guess, but it's a coach's decision."
The ironic thing is, the Salsa kicked away the game in large part because of a defensive error. Phillip Gyau had scored from 35 yards on the left wing at 66:27 to make it 1-0 and give the Salsa a fleeting vision of a championship.
Then the Salsa began to struggle. At 87:27, Lawrence Lozzano had the ball stolen from him and Eck tied the score on a pass from Robert Lipp.
In overtime, Taifour Diane scored at 104:20 and then Lipp chipped in another goal at 109:58.
It was all over but the finger-pointing.
"A whole sequence of things didn't go our way," Feuer said. "A lot of things happened tonight that shouldn't have."
As things disintegrated before his eyes, Salsa General Manager Rick Davis tap-danced through the De La Pena-Menezes conflict as best as he could.
"I don't get paid to think," he said. "I get paid to implement."
Not exactly a vote of confidence for Menezes and assistant Octavio Zambrano.
"Am I planning anything?" Davis asked. "The answer is no. I'm not planning to bring him back. I'm not planning to not bring him back."
And don't even ask what Davis thought of Paulinho getting yanked with a mere four minutes left.
"Unfortunately, I wasn't watching," he said. "I'm a pro-active general manager. I carry tickets, passes and make sure people are where they are supposed to be."
Yes, general managers find themselves doing that at the World Series and Super Bowl, too.