Team America's roller coaster season bottomed out last night. Playing in a driving rain on a soggy, unmarked baseball field, Team America lost to the San Diego Sockers, the league's worst team, 2-0, before 7,317 at RFK Stadium.
Gary Heale and Vidal Fernandez scored second-half goals to lead the Sockers to their second straight victory. San Diego, which defeated powerful Toronto, 1-0, on Sunday, raised its record to 4-10 but remains in last place in the Western Division with 34 points.
Team America (8-10), playing before its smallest home crowd of the season, lost its fifth straight and sixth out of its last seven. The team remains in last place in the Southern Division with 56 points and one of the longest losing streaks in the league this season.
"A most disappointing game; very bad," said Alkis Panagoulias, whose Team America played without injured striker Alan Green and defender Jeff Durgan, who was sitting out a one-game suspension for penalty points.
"When skill and maturity intervene, as they did against Fort Lauderdale (in a 3-2 loss July 16) and again tonight, then we've had it," said Panagoulias. "I only said we'd be competitive this season, not win every game. But we've lost that fighting spirit and I don't know what to do. These boys are a big puzzle."
"We need team players now more than ever," said goalkeeper Arnie Mausser, who faced 23 shots and made four saves. "When this team is winning, anybody could play for us. We need leaders now."
Things looked bad for Team America from the start, as a hard rain began falling 10 minutes before kickoff and continued on and off throughout the game. The rain quickly saturated the newly sodded field, slowing the tempo to a heavy walk at times.
The rain took its greatest toll on the west end of the field, where it turned five large dirt patches left over from Monday's old-timer's game into a thick mud. Some of the field's boundaries, including the penalty area, were left unmarked, although the foul lines from the baseball field were intact.
"The field was heavy," said San Diego goalkeeper Volkmar Gross, who made seven saves in recording his second straight shutout. "It greatly affected the game."
After carrying play in the first half but failing to test Mausser, the Sockers took a 1-0 lead at 60:16 when Heale took a sharp centering pass from Fernandez and beat Mausser with a shot just inside the right post. Heale has scored three goals this season, tops on the team.
Fernandez, who was slated to join Team America in May but elected to stay with San Diego, made it 2-0 15 minutes later when he beat defender Alan Merrick to a through ball on the left side from Kaz Deyna. Fernandez then struck a low shot that beat Mausser to the far side.
San Diego, the only team to have scored fewer goals (13) this NASL season than Team America (19), started slowly but dominated the second half. Gross, who publicly criticized Team America after its 2-1 victory over the Sockers on May 21, said Team America's lack of imagination on offense is its greatest weakness.
"They have much work to do," he said. "They play such a simple style and it is so easy to read. Long balls are not hard to stop."
San Diego controlled the midfield throughout the game, and got an excellent performance from Hugo Perez, acquired last week from Tampa Bay after the league disallowed his trade to Team America. Perez got off four shots and set up Paulo Moura on a header at 43:40 of the first half.
"Team America let us play too much," said Perez. "When you get good players like we have here, you can't let them do that. They clearly underestimated us."