ANAHEIM — Rod Castro was disappointed but optimistic. And his mood reflected that of every other Splash player who managed to gimp through Thursday night's loss to Dallas.
The first words from Castro's mouth following the defeat? "I think we got the edge."
His second? "The reason they beat us tonight was because we lacked experience."
Two points that seemed to hit the Splash's championship hopes on the head.
The Sidekicks, the team with the best record in the CISL, scored a 9-7 victory over the Splash in front of a franchise record 7,114 at The Pond.
David Doyle and Eric Dade scored fourth-quarter goals, saddling the Splash with only its second home loss of the year.
The matchup was a preview of what many believe will be the championship series. Dallas, Eastern Division champion and winner of seven consecutive games, is 23-3; the Splash, Western Division champion, is 19-8 and has the second-best record in the league.
Although the victory gave Dallas a series sweep of the Splash, there were some extenuating circumstances--such as the four starters and six regulars missing from the Splash lineup.
The Splash played with 40% of its total point-scorers sitting in the club suite.
Raffaele Ruotolo (66 points, out with toe injury), Armando Valdivia (30, knee), Ralph Black (34, suspension) and Denis Hamlett (18, ankle) represented three of the top five and four of the top nine point scorers on the team.
Also missing were two defensive-minded midfielders, Mike LaPosha (knee) and Jaime Francisco (hamstring).
That left the Splash with only four players with as many as three years of professional indoor soccer experience. But the Splash still came close to beating the Sidekicks.
"They're a good team," said Dale Ervine, who had two goals, "but they're not a team we have to fear."
Dallas' 9-6 victory in July had gnawed at Splash players for the 1 1/2 months. "We played terrible," Splash defender Doug Neely said before Thursday's rematch. "We want to redeem ourselves."
They did. In theory.
"This built our confidence up a lot even though we lost," goalkeeper Jorge Valenzuela said. "It's great when guys who have barely seen the field come out and perform like that."
In fact, the Splash led by two goals at halftime.
Dallas led, 3-1, before a second-quarter blitz by the Splash's baby brigade. Bobby Reyes scored his second goal of the season; Paul Ratcliffe scored his 13th; Steve McKenzie scored his second; and then Dale Ervine scored his team-high 38th to give the Splash a 5-3 halftime lead.
The Splash's first goal came off the left foot of Bobby Bruch, who scored his first professional goal Sunday in overtime against Sacramento to clinch the Western Division title. It tied the score, 1-1.
"The guys are disappointed--deep down, they feel we gave this game away," Splash Coach George Fernandez said. "I have to be happy about sticking with the best team in the league with our young players . . . I feel sorry for Arizona."
Arizona plays the Splash Saturday at The Pond in the final game of the regular season. The Splash will play host to Sacramento in a playoff game Sept. 10.
Castro (28 goals) gave the Splash a 6-5 lead, but Dallas tied it 44 seconds later. Ervine scored his 39th goal to tie the score, 7-7, going into the fourth quarter.