Don't look now, but San Diego's sixth Major Soccer League championship in the last seven years may not be the lock it was expected to be.
Cleveland surprised the host Sockers 4-3 last night in San Diego tie the series at a game apiece, with the best-of-seven matchup heading to Cleveland for three games. Even more importantly, the Sockers might have lost leading scorer Branko Segota, who scored their first goal but left the game with a strained right hamstring 1:25 before halftime.
His status for the remainder of the series will be determined following further medical examination today. In his last 11 playoff games, Segota has totaled 22 points.
Cleveland's Hector Marinaro extended his goal-scoring streak to all nine playoff games this season when he scored with 1:53 left in the second quarter to give the Crunch a 2-1 halftime lead. Overall, he has 15 playoff goals. Zoran Karic also had a goal and two assists for the Crunch, who will host Game 3 Friday night.
Wes Wade had two goals for San Diego, which outshot Cleveland 29-24 -- a far cry from its 46-14 dominance in the first game.
* ANOTHER CRUNCH PLUS: In MSL championship series history, the team that has won Game 2 has gone on to win the title eight of 10 times.
For those counting, yes, this is the 13th MSL championship series. But in 1980 and 1981 the New York Arrows won the title in a single-game playoff . . . This is the eighth year for the best-of-seven format.
* BEST AGAINST BEST: Cleveland, with its MSL regular-seasorecord of 322 goals, averaged 6.2 goals per game coming into this series. San Diego, on the other hand, has the MSL's tightest defense, giving up just 250 all year for a 4.8 per game average.
* STRANGE BUT TRUE: The Sockers notched two shutouts this season, one against Dallas, whose record was the worst in the league. The other came against none other than the potent Crunch.
* ONE FOR THE BIG TOE: Segota is the only player in the MSL with 10 championship rings -- four with the New York Arrows and six with the Sockers. Which means his hands are full and this one, if he gets it, has only one place to go . . .
* AWARDS GALORE: The Sockers collected two kudos last week, when Kevin Crow was named MSL Defender of the Year and goalkeeper Victor Nogueira was named the league's Most Valuable Player.
Crow played in all but the last game of the regular season, scoring nine goals and nine assists, but his most valuable work came as a pure defender, as he compiled 106 blocks and held many opposing forwards scoreless.
As for Nogueira, he was simply magnificent. The 31-year-old compiled a league-record 31 victories, beating the the 30-victory mark set by former San Diego keeper Alan Mayer in 1982-83. Mayer is the only other non-forward to have won league MVP honors. Nogueira had a 31-16 record with a league-best 4.37 goals-against-average during the regular season.