The Fort Lauderdale Strikers didn't need a reminder of how much they miss defender Dan Canter, but they got one, anyway, tonight as Canter scored three goals in a 4-2 victory for Team America that ended an eight-game losing streak.
"I'm in love with this guy," Team America Coach Alkis Panagoulias said of Canter. "That was a tremendous game he played. I have a lot of trust in American players, and if we get two or three more like him, Team America will make a very good international team."
Each of Canter's goals resulted from errors by the Strikers, who somehow are first in the North American Soccer League Southern Division with a 10-13 record and 100 points. Team America, which was outshot (24-12) and outfouled (31-19), kept alive its slim playoff hopes with a 9-13 record and 66 points.
"We should be embarrassed and ashamed of losing to a team of lesser ability and lesser quality than the Strikers," said defender Thomas Rongen in the Strikers' solemn dressing room. "We just got outplayed and outhustled. We got beat in every possible way."
Canter, 22, who had scored only two goals in his two-year NASL career, gave Team America a 2-1 halftime lead at 38:45 with his first goal of the night. It was just a bad omen for the Strikers.
At 58:30, he bent a free kick beautifully around the Strikers' wall and inside the left post. The kick was awarded after Fort Lauderdale defender Ricardo Villa had been issued a caution card for fouling midfielder Ringo Cantillo.
It marked the first time in Team America's history that the team scored more than two goals in one match.
Canter completed the hat trick when he converted a penalty kick at 72:54. Rongen had taken down forward Alan Green in the penalty area.
Although the game was gone, the Strikers made sure it wasn't a complete loss. Forward Bronko Segota cut through defender Tony Bellinger and forward Tony Crescitelli and crossed a pass to forward Brian Kidd, who headed it inside the right post at 82:44. Defender Bob Bolitho assisted Segota on the play.
"There's no revenge, really, because I wasn't traded," said Canter, who was the Strikers' rookie of the year last season and left with defender Bruce Savage and forward Andrew Parkinson. "It makes it enjoyable, though. I'll go have a few beers with those guys now.
"It's a thrill to win again. It's been a long time. It gets pretty discouraging."
Team America played without its captain, defender Jeff Durgan, who stayed home with a foot injury, while goalie Paul Hammond, who has a broken finger, was replaced by Arnie Mausser.
Defender Sonny Askew, who separated his shoulder in Team America's last game here, played for the first time since then.
Team America will now return to Washington for a two-game stand, Sunday against the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Wednesday against the Cosmos.