Tulsa forwards Ron Futcher and Laurie Abrahams, the NASL's eighth and 10th all-time leading scorers, respectively, learned Sunday that Team America's defense seldom makes mistakes. But when it does, failure to take advantage of the situation can make for a very long afternoon.
Futcher and Abrahams, who have combined for 153 career goals, each had one solid scoring opportunity as a result of rare defensive lapses in Sunday's 1-0 loss to Team America. But neither could score on close-in shots and were otherwise frustrated by Team America's active zone defense. Futcher was limited to two shots for the game and Abrahams got off just four.
"They played us pretty tight on defense," said Futcher, who scored 13 goals last year. "Jeff Durgan stayed pretty close to me most of the game, and I had no room to move. We were forced to play the ball wide to the wings because we couldn't work it into the middle."
Team America Coach Alkis Panagoulias tried to keep either 6-foot-1 Durgan or 6-2 Rudy Glenn isolated on the right side with Futcher, who is most dangerous in close with headers. That left 5-9 fullback Bruce Savage responsible for marking Abrahams, who scored a career-high 17 goals in 1982.
"We sort of played a zone defense," said Savage, 22, a three-year starter at Atlanta and Fort Lauderdale before joining Team America. "If someone came in our area, we were supposed to pick him up. Abrahams is really dangerous if he can get his back into you. He likes to grab your jersey and roll around you, and he likes to use his left foot a lot. But I was able to read him pretty well."
Panagoulias, who has stressed the importance of defense for Team America to be successful, was pleased with Sunday's effort. Team America is the only one in the league that has not given up a goal.
"Our defense worked perfectly," said Panagoulias, whose team raised its record to 2-0, good for a second-place tie with Fort Lauderdale in the Southern Division. "We are facing very experienced European and South American forwards in this league, and we can stop them. I think Savage is one of the best fulbacks in this country, and he played exceptionally well. He is very smart, he pivots, he is quick and he reads the game."
Team officials were also pleased with the game's 14,211 attendance. An all-day rain and Mother's Day were blamed for the smallish crowd, which was one of the lowest in the NASL this season, but General Manager Beau Rogers said the total actually exceeded his expectations.
"When it started raining at 10 a.m. I said 'Uh-oh, this isn't good,' " said Rogers. "But we were delighted with 14,000, and I think most of that number are hard-core fans who will be back. Anyway, I'd rather start with 14,000 and build up to 38,000 than the other way around."