The stage is set for what could be one of the most exciting championship series in Major Soccer League history.
The San Diego Sockers, who wrapped up the Western Division championship a week ago, are ready and waiting in San Diego for Game 1 this Friday against the Cleveland Crunch.
"We're all excited about being in the championship," said Cleveland forward Hector Marinaro. "And I'm really looking forward to it, because after six years, this is my first time."
The Crunch, which turned its season around in late January, earned the Eastern Division title over Kansas City Saturday in a rousing Game 7 at Richfield Coliseum.
A crowd of 12,718 watched as Cleveland earned a 7-6 victory to win the series four games to three.
Told the Sockers have won every championship series they've played in, Marinaro laughed.
"Thank you, very much, for telling me that," he said. "But they're bound to lose sometime. It will be a tough task, and we'll have to play four solid games. But we've been on such a roll, no one wants it to end now."
Crunch midfielder Dave Hoggan scored what turned out to be the game-winner with 8:46 gone in the fourth quarter. Marinaro (two goals), Zoran Karic (one goal, two assists), Mike Sweeney (one goal, two assists), Brian Schmetzer (one goal, one assist) and Michael King (one goal) also contributed to the Crunch scoring.
* COMET DELIGHT: Despite the loss of the Eastern Division series, the Comets have something to smile about today.
The team, which has been looking for new investors, got its man over the weekend. Delbert Dunmire, chairman of Growth Industries in Kansas City, stepped forward guaranteeing a $630,000 investment over the next three years.
"I don't believe he has ever seen a soccer game," said Brian Bardo, president of Growth Industries. "I think he is looking at it as a donation for the good of the city."
* USA DOWNS URUGUAY: Peter Vermes took a cross from Chris Henderson and scored in the 26th minute to lead the United States to a 1-0 victory yesterday over the national team of Uruguay in a World Series of Soccer match. A crowd of 35,772 watched the game in Denver, Colo., which is vying to host matches in the 1994 World Cup.
The victory was the first for new coach Bora Milutinovic, who has been with the U.S. team for only two weeks. MSL defenders Bruce Savage of the Blast and Fernando Clavijo of the St. Louis Storm both had starting positions in the game.
The Uruguay match was the fourth of a 12-game World Series of Soccer schedule. The U.S. team will play Argentina on May 19 in Palo Alto, Calif., followed by a game June 1 against Ireland in Foxboro, Mass.
* BAYS CRUISE: The Maryland Bays turned in a successful season opener, beating the Penn-Jersey Spirit, 2-1, on two goals Brian Haynes.
The only goal given up by the Bays came on a penalty kick by Pat O'Kelly at the 25-minute mark of the first half.
The Bays play their home opener at Cedar Lane Park in Columbia this Saturday, against Fort Lauderdale.
* MANNING JOINS UP: Blast goalkeeper Scott Manning has signed on to be the celebrity spokesman for The Upton School. The school provides education for any sick or infirm child, who is at home, hospitalized or institutionalized and unable to attend regular school.
"There are a lot of kids out there who are in need," said Manning, who replaces former Oriole Paul Blair in the role. "Any time you can help kids -- I knock on wood almost every day that I have two healthy ones -- I think you have to do it. You have to look beyond yourself."
Manning, who has spent the last two years as chairman for the Multiple Sclerosis Read-a-thon, said his role is threefold: publicity, fund-raising and when possible, to be there with the kids.
"I believe every kid deserves the opportunity to fulfill the American dream of getting an education," said Manning, who will be at The Upton School's reunion day at the Baltimore Zoo Saturday. "Maybe through The Upton School, they can be more a part of the community."
* MERGER TALK STOPS: MSL commissioner Earl Foreman, Blast owner Ed Hale, National Professional Soccer League commissioner Steve Paxos and Atlanta Attack owner Ron Twerwilliger met at BWI Airport last Friday to discuss the possibilities of joining the two leagues.
"We went, we saw, we talked and we listened," said Foreman. "It was pleasant and it was informative and we left in a friendly fashion. But we have no plans to meet again."