Stand by for a U-turn from mediocrity. Get ready for a turnabout from worst to possibly first.
That's the bold message of Seattle SeaDog Coach Fernando Clavijo.
"On paper right now, we are the best team," Clavijo said. "I've been around a long time and I have to tell you, we have a hell of a team."
Those are brash words from the coach of a team that is 0-2 in attempts to make the generous playoffs of the Continental Indoor Soccer League.
Fueling the rampant optimism is the addition of weapons to what was the lowest scoring team in the CISL last year.
Jean Harbor, who scored 40 goals in the SeaDogs' inaugural 1995 season (12-16) has returned to the team. The Nigerian was the top scorer for Colorado's Major League Soccer franchise but was unhappy.
"He called me out of the blue and said, `Fernando, would you be interested in having me back?' " Clavijo said.
The answer was an immediate yes.
Also back is Olu Molomo, a Nigerian acquired in a midseason deal last year with San Diego. He played in only 12 games for Seattle but finished as the No. 2 scorer with 17 goals and led a resurgence from a dreadful 1-9 start to the 10-18 finish.
A new scorer with a familiar name is Jason Dunn, acquired in a trade with the outdoor Seattle Sounders, who got Dion Earl. Dunn played indoors with Wichita in the rival National Professional Soccer League this winter and led the Wings with 52 goals.
"We'll have incredible firepower," said Clavijo, a defender on the U.S. 1994 World Cup team. Clavijo's indoor credentials include playing on five championship teams.
The SeaDog defense, anchored by all-league goalie Juan De La O, was steady last year while the offense was punchless. De La O returns, as does capable backup Nat Gonzalez. No team allowed fewer goals (148) last year than Seattle.
All-star defender John Purtteman also is back.
Ex-Sounder defender Bill Crook should improve the back line and ex-Sounders Dick McCormick and Tom Bialek should help in midfield.
The key absentee from last year's squad is defender Lionel Pernia, who is playing in Argentina.
The SeaDogs open tonight in Sacramento and play their first five games on the road. The scheduling was designed to avoid possible conflicts if the Sonics qualified for the NBA Finals. The SeaDogs and Sonics are both owned by Barry Ackerley and operated by Full House Sports and Entertainment. Last year, the SeaDogs opened at home on the same day the Sonic season ended in Chicago.
This year's home opener will be July 5, a Saturday, against the Portland Pride at KeyArena.
Eight of 11 teams will make the playoffs. San Diego has suspended operations but may rejoin the league next year. Arizona is back after taking last year off.
Seattle, Arizona and Indianapolis, which joined the league last year, are the only teams never to make the playoffs in the 5-year-old league. Monterrey, Mexico, which returns its top 10 scorers from last year, is the two-time defending champion.
The SeaDogs listed their average attendance as 3,812 last season, with a low of 1,027 for a July loss against Houston and 6,592 for a season-ending win over Detroit. About 900 season tickets have been sold, which is up slightly from last year. Part of the increase is attributed to a joint Sonic-SeaDog promotion that offered discounted tickets.
The franchise was marketed as entertainment the first two years as loud,. nonstop music, laser-light entrances and the antics of mascot Salty the SeaDog were promoted. Those remain part of the show, but the franchise hopes to sell tickets on something else this year - winning.
1997 SEADOG SCHEDULE
JUNE 14 - at Sacramento; 20 - at Arizona; 22 - at Anaheim; 26 - at Detroit; 28 - at Indiana. JULY 5 - PORTLAND; 11 - ANAHEIM; 17 - WASHINGTON; 20 - at Anaheim; 26 - DETROIT; 31 - PORTLAND. AUGUST 7 - ANAHEIM; 9 - ARIZONA; 13 - at Portland; 15 - HOUSTON; 17 - SACRAMENTO; 21 - at Sacramento; 23 - PORTLAND; 27 - ANAHEIM; 29 - at Portland. SEPTEMBER 6 - DALLAS; 13 - at Arizona; 19 - at Monterrey La Raza (Mexico, 6:35 p.m. PDT); 21 - at Dallas; 26 - ARIZONA; 28 - SACRAMENTO.
. 1997 SEADOG ROSTER .
. No. Name Pos. . 30 Tim Babcock MF .
3 Tom Bialek MF .
9 Bruce Broughton MF . 15 Victor Bychov F/MF .
8 Camilo Casal MF/D . 17 Bill Crook D . 24 Juan De La O GK . 11 Shane Decker MF/F . 14 Jason Dunn MF . 22 Marcelo Fontana MF/F . 20 Rafael Garcia MF .
1 Nat Gonzalez GK . 18 Jean Harbor F .
6 Dave Mattson D .
7 Dick McCormick MF . 19 Shannon Murray MF . 10 John Olu Molomo F . 21 Gaston Pernia D . 12 John Purtteman D .
5 Seth Spidahl D .
4 Todd Stauber D . 13 David Wheeler MF/D .
2 Todd Woodhouse D .