The Los Angeles Aztecs had just scored the tying goal midway through the second half of yesterday's game with the San Jose Earthquakes and the sparse Memorial Coliseum crowd was noisily appreciative.
But lying on the ground in front of the Earthquake goal was the heart of the Aztec offense—Steve David—gripping his right knee and obviously in pain.
David tried to continue but soon left the game and his absence may have been the main reason the Earthquakes were able to pull off a 3-2 sudden-death overtime upset win over Los Angeles, striking a serious blow to the Aztecs' chances of finishing in first place in the North American Soccer League Southern Division.
Fortunately for the Aztecs, they already have clinched a playoff spot with only two games remaining.
But the injury to David, if determined to be more serious than just stretched ligaments as originally diagnosed, could prevent Los Angeles from going any further than the opening round of post-season play.
As the Aztecs' defense continues to make mistake after mistake, the offense tries to pick up the slack. As in last week's 6-5 loss in Hawaii, it fell a goal short yesterday.
Making the loss even tougher to take was the way the final goal went in. The consensus in the Aztec locker room after the game was that it was a fluke. But whatever the description, San Jose will take it.
Leroy DeLeon, acquired in a trade last month, set up the score, sending a crossing shot from left to right and hooking toward Los Angeles goalie Bob Rigby.
But beating Rigby to the ball was Earthquake forward Paul Child, who redirected the shot past Rigby to even San Jose's record to 12-12 and stun a crowd that appeared smaller than the announced 5,997.
DeLeon, named offensive player of the game, played a part in each of the San Jose goals.
The first Earthquake goal was so much a fluke that the official scorer had to call it an "own goal," because it was driven home by Aztec defender Ron Davies who tried to clear DeLeon's shot when Rigby was drawn far out of position.
That was the only score in an otherwise dull first half, with neither team mounting much of an offensive attack.
David, teaming up with George Best, finally woke up the Los Angeles offense eight minutes into the second half, ramming home a rebound of Best's 30-yarder to tie the game.
The goal was No. 26 for the lean Trinidad native, who is only four short of the NASL single-season record set by John Kowalik and Cirilio Fernandez.
Five minutes later DeLeon put San Jose ahead again, taking a pass from Ilija Mitic, beating defender Martin Cohen then scoring on a low shot past a diving Rigby.
Best and David switched roles for the second Aztec goal, with the former European player of the year easily rebounding a blocked David shot past goalie Mike Hewitt.
But by the time Best had released his shot, David was on the ground in agony.
Best's assist on the first goal gave him 17 for the season, one behind the league mark set by Pele last year. Best has now recorded an assist in six consecutive games, setting a league record. His 35 points puts him in a tie for third in the league standings with Giorgio Chinaglia of the Cosmos, 23 behind the league-leading David.