ANAHEIM — Fresh off one of its best victories in franchise history, which came after one of its best offensive performances ever, the Splash found itself facing the Continental Indoor Soccer League's highest-scoring team Sunday.
And the Splash turned in an impressive overall performance, winning its third consecutive game by beating Houston, 7-5, in front of an announced crowd of 5,023 at the Pond.
The victory improved the Splash's record to 8-7; coupled with Sacramento's 6-0 loss to Seattle--only the second shutout in CISL history--the third-place Splash moved to 3 1/2 games behind the Knights.
Houston, the Eastern Division leader, dropped to 10-6.
Rueben Fernandez had 21 saves to help the Splash hold Houston to 2 1/2 goals below its average.
"That's the best team in the league, supposedly," said Bernie Lilavois, the Splash's leading scorer. "By beating them, we prove to ourselves that we're the best team in the league when we show up mentally to play."
The Splash is as streaky as any team in the league.
Before winning three in a row, it lost four straight. Before that, it won four out of five.
The victories Saturday and Sunday opened a 14-day stretch during which the Splash plays eight games. The next is Wednesday at Portland.
"We're not behind the eight-ball now,' said a relieved Doug Neely, who finished the scoring with 1 minute 24 seconds left against the Hotshots, who were using a sixth attacker. "It was going to take time for us to learn how to attack together and it's all coming together."
Neely, like his teammates, said the Splash--the league's leading defensive team--won this game with its offense more than its defense. Still, three of Houston's goals came on power-play opportunities.
The Splash, which overcame a three-goal fourth-quarter deficit Saturday to defeat Dallas in a shootout, 6-5, found itself trailing, 3-0, just 1:09 into the second quarter, the apparent victim of an early morning flight that began with a 5 a.m. (PST) wakeup call.
"I'll be the first to admit, when we came out, they wanted it a little more," Neely said.
Added Danny Barber, who had two goals and an assist: "It was gut-check time."
The Splash went to the same strategy it used a night earlier in Dallas to overcome a 5-2 fourth-quarter deficit.
The Splash employed its "power lines"--its best offensive players rotating with a line comprised of its best defensive players--midway through the quarter and reaped immediate results.
Lilavois, who had three goals in each of his previous two games, scored 10:17 into the quarter off an alert pass by Neely from the side boards to the far post. From there, it was a simple toe-poke for Lilavois, who had failed on two earlier one-on-one breakaways against Houston goalkeeper Terry Waldorf (13 saves).
Just 2 1/2 minutes later, player/coach Dale Ervine took a pass from Barber at the top of the arc. Barber made a run at Waldorf without the ball, and Ervine fired the shot past both of them from 30 feet. Ervine, as the season enters its second half, became only the second player to reach double-digit goal-scoring. Barber's two goals also give him 11 on the season.
The Splash scored four of the five goals in the third quarter to take a 6-4 lead, getting a second goal from Ervine, one from Armando Valdivia, and two from Barber--including his league-leading third short-handed goal.
"It's contagious," Barber said of his team's effort. "We were losing and it kept building. Now, we're finding ways to win. Hopefully, we're over the so-called hump.'