The San Diego Sockers are a national treasure, at least they should be.
In one of the most exciting games of the season, the Blast and Sockers conspired Saturday afternoon to show the 7,878 Major Soccer League fans at the Arena what is wonderful about the indoor game.
They also conspired to reveal exactly what is wrong with the Blast.
The Sockers won the game 9-8, to win the season series 5-1. The game they played in the first half demonstrated the skill of a surgeon: a fast pace with precision passing made beautiful by their continuous hustle at both ends of the field.
"Before the All-Star break, I thought we were untouchable," said San Diego coach Ron Newman. "Now, we've come back to earth a little bit, but during the first half of this game, we were back to that untouchable state."
For the Blast's part, it demonstrated a big heart. Despite being embarrassed by Wichita, 7-2, the night before, the team stuck together and continually pressed the ball into the Sockers' net in the fourth quarter.
"There were a lot of positives out there," said Blast coach Kenny Cooper. Rookies Chris Simon, Dom Feltham and Baltimore native Chris Reif all scored. Dale Mitchell's performance all over the field deserved admiration. And, offensively, the team never stopped digging.
But there was the other side, the side that has haunted the Blast all season, and a side the Sockers forced everyone present to look at.
The Blast, for all the efforts of Cooper and his assistant Jim Pollihan, either can't or won't play defense.
"Our concentration is just unacceptable," said Cooper. "We score and it's right back in our net right away, right away."
The Blast got beat at the near post. It got beat ball-watching. It got beat on free kicks. It got beat every way imaginable.
And yet, thanks to Kansas City's victory over Wichita this weekend, the Blast (20-25) still has a 2 1/2 -game lead over the Wings (18-28) for the final playoff spot.
"We've got to change the way we play defense," said Cooper. "We're the only ones who can."
* MITCHELL STEPS UP: Mitchell, on a 13-game scoring streak, is the first Blast player to score 70 points in a season since 1985-86, when Stan Stamenkovic had 81.
* MOBILIO MOVES UP: Blast forward Domenic Mobilio has become the team's second-most productive goal scorer in a single season. He moved past David MacWilliams (41 goals) with No. 42 Friday and No. 43 Saturday. With seven games to play, he still has an outside chance at matching Joe Finks' season-record 51.
* CRUNCH, CRUNCH, CRUNCH: Cleveland clinched a playoff spot and stretched its lead over second-place Kansas City to 2 1/2 games yesterday with a 7-6 win in Dallas. Hector Marinaro set up four goals for the Crunch (24-20), which held on after taking a 7-1 lead.
* DALLAS FANS CHEER: The Sidekicks, who have kicked off their season ticket sales for next season, have dropped ticket prices from $9 to $6 in the upper deck.
* NEWMAN'S DUE: San Diego's Newman got the interview he deserved last week, when U.S. Soccer Federation president Alan Rothenberg invited him to Los Angeles to interview for the U.S. National Team's head coaching job.
"I thought at first he was just trying to keep everyone happy," Newman said. "But they postponed naming the new coach for a month. Not because of me, but because they have a genuine interest in making sure they get the right guy.
"We spent an hour and a half talking about every aspect of the game, and I felt good when I left. I don't suppose I'll get it, but I feel they know I can be a help to them in some capacity."
But that wasn't the best part of the meeting.
"We were in this room with this trophy," he said. "I looked at it and I thought it was a replica of the World Cup. But it wasn't a replica. It was the real thing. I couldn't contain myself. I wrapped my arms around it and hugged it. For me, being from England, the World Cup is like the crown jewels. I couldn't believe my good luck. I actually got to hug the thing."
* ALL SHOOK UP: Kansas City coach Dave Clements invited his team to the ballroom of their hotel in Wichita Saturday afternoon, but it wasn't to dance.
Clements held the meeting in an effort to stop a four-game losing streak. He shook up his starting lineup, moved Kevin Hundelt and Carl Valentine onto the same line with Jan Goossens, told everyone to shape up, and then watched as his team went out and beat the Wings, 5-3, thanks primarily to two goals each by Hundelt and Goossens.