The Blast may be down, but in San Diego goalkeeper Victor Nogueira's mind, it certainly isn't out.
"I think the series should go back to San Diego," said Nogueira. "I know they're going to try like hell to get it back there. But they can't play us like they did Thursday and expect to do it. They have to rely on their skill. It got them as far as they are. They have to realize they don't have to kick us to play with us."
The Blast is down 3-1 going into Game 5 of this best-of-seven Major Soccer League semifinal series tonight (7:35) at the Arena. To get back into the series, the Blast must beat Nogueira, one of the most unusual goalkeepers in the game. And to do that, the Blast has to get some production from Domenic Mobilio, the team's leading scorer in the regular season, and Jean Harbor, its top postseason scorer.
Harbor, who had four goals, one assist in the first two games, has had only two assists in the last two. Mobilio has been held to two goals, one assist in the entire series.
"Domenic's been unlucky," said Nogueira. "And we've made a couple defensive changes on Jean that have made a difference. He was actually turning some of our defenders around, and he was killing us. He's really got the hardest shot I've ever seen. In Game 3, we put Kevin Crow and Terry Woodberry on him, and he's been shut out since.
Asked what the Sockers have done to quiet Mobilio, coach Ron Newman had a ready answer.
"We bribed him," Newman said, straight-faced. "He's going to play for us next year. We've got a condo all picked out in La Jolla, where he can look at the ocean and the seals."
Newman eventually got serious.
"Actually, we're giving him a lot of respect," Newman said. "For us, he's like Preki. We're focused on him. Other players may sneak up on us and score, but we're not going to let him or Jean Harbor do that. Those are the two guys who can turn the game around for them."
Nogueira can turn a game, too, though to hear him tell it, no one would think so. But Nogueira doesn't think like other people.
While most again are counting out the Blast, Nogueira counts it in -- "We never had control of them in those first three games," he said. "There is no way we're just going to walk over them."
While many say Nogueira is the key to San Diego's success, he says it is the defense around him, led by Crow. "Without Kevin, I'd be having a very difficult time," he said.
And, while nearly everyone associated with the MSL would give him the title of Iron Man (since the 1990 championship series against the Blast, Nogueira has played in 102 of a possible 108 games), he actually cringes at the mention.
"It means nothing to me," he said.
As to his success -- back-to-back 26-win seasons -- he says he has been "lucky," a curious statement following Game 4, in which he made 23 of his 51 series saves and lowered his goals-against average to 4.46.
Blast coach Kenny Cooper, himself a former goalkeeper, sees it much differently. When Nogueira is on like he has been in this series, Cooper says the Sockers veteran "is like the conductor of an orchestra."
But Nogueira will admit only that he does play better over a long string of games and that his experience does help his anticipation.
Whether the Blast can find some luck of its own and a game plan to extend this series tonight remains to be seen. But no matter what the Blast does, Nogueira said it already has left a lasting impression.
"They shocked us," he said. "We thought we'd wipe them out right away. But the only difference between us is our experience, and they're learning with every game. I've been really surprised that they can play one-touch with us. If I was them, no matter what happens in this series, I'd be really proud and I'd be looking forward to next year."