by Pete Richmire

The San Diego Sockers are the 2021 Ron Newman Cup Champions. That is how the season ended, but now we will look what it took to get there. It was a season that was unique for many different reasons, including a seven-team field as many teams were unable to compete due to local and regional regulations surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.

While some teams were sidelined, many of their star players were not as we saw ‘players on loan’ join teams which were competing. The number two and three seeded teams at the end of the regular season got to select their first-round playoff opponent. There were no divisions or conferences this season. So many decisions went in to making the 2021 campaign happen and the cooperation among teams was incredible.

When the season kicked off on January 2 with Florida, St. Louis, Kansas City, and Dallas playing on opening night. Ontario, San Diego, and Tacoma were scheduled to join over the next few weeks followed by Baltimore, Harrisburg, Rochester, and Utica.

The Fury, Sockers, and Stars did enter the chase for the cup but ultimately the four teams from the northeast were unable to as restrictions prevented them. As the final roster of competing teams was set, the playoff format was set with the teams being seeded based on their winning percentage since an unbalanced number of games was being played between teams.

Dallas Sidekicks

Of all teams playing in 2021, Dallas played the most balanced home vs away schedule with five contests on the road, and six at the Allen Event Center. It was a tough year for the Sidekicks, who dropped their first four games before topping the Tacoma Stars 5-4 on February 6. That would prove to be their only regular-season win as they dropped their final six games headed to the playoffs.

Florida Tropics

Florida kicked off the season with a run of six straight wins, including three against St. Louis, two over Kansas City, and an 8-0 shut out of Dallas. Ultimately the Tropics would only lose three regular season games, one each to St. Louis, Tacoma, and San Diego, on their way to a 10-3 record which was good for the number one seed for the playoffs.

Kansas City Comets

2021 was almost a tale of two seasons for Kansas City. They kicked off the campaign with an 8-5 win over Dallas, but dropped their next four outings, two in Florida, one in St. Louis, and their home opener against Tacoma. The Comets then had a stretch of eight straight games at Cable Dahmer Arena and won seven of them. Their lone loss came against the Stars, the only team to beat the Comets twice during the regular season. After starting 1-4, Kansas City finished the season 7-5 which was good for the third seed headed to the playoffs.

Ontario Fury

The Fury started their season with seven games away from Toyota Arena, winning five of them. Their only losses during that stretch were one-goal losses against Florida and Kansas City. After local regulations regarding the pandemic eased, Ontario was able to finish the regular season with three games at their home arena, losing to Florida before beating Tacoma and San Diego. They finished the regular season 7-3, giving them the number two seed and first choice of their first-round playoff opponent.

San Diego Sockers

San Diego had a very un-San Diego-like regular season, alternating wins and losses through their first four games. They played every game on the road and won back-to-back games once during the season. They finished with a 4-6 regular season record and the fifth seed to the playoffs, meaning they would not be a selector of their opponent, they would be a selectee. Then, they became the San Diego Sockers of old.

St. Louis Ambush

The St. Louis Ambush played more regular season games than any other team, 15 to be exact, and finished with an 8-7 record. They were a team that could beat any team, or lose to any team, on any given night. They had stellar defense, shutting down potent offenses, and they gave up 14 goals. Observing the Ambush during the campaign showed how close this team is to being extremely good if they stay consistent and improve their road-play. St. Louis finished 7-4 at home, but only 1-3 when away from the Family Arena.

Tacoma Stars

The Stars were one of two teams which played every game on the road this season, as Washington state had, and still has, some of the strictest COVID regulations in place. For their efforts, Tacoma finished with a 4-7 record and one of the toughest opponents a team could face when their game is on point. Including Tacoma’s two playoff games, nine of their 13 games were decided by one goal. The other four games were decided by just two goals.

Ron Newman Cup Playoffs First-Round

By virtue of winning the regular season championship, the Florida Tropics earned a bye directly to the Semi-Finals to be held at Cable Dahmer Arena. Ontario had the first selection of their opponent and they selected Dallas. Kansas City went with their in-state rival St. Louis Ambush, which set up the San Diego Sockers and Tacoma Stars to square off at Toyota Arena in Ontario. Every first-round series was decided in two games.

San Diego eliminated Tacoma by a pair of 6-5 finals, both of which went to overtime.

Ontario began their series with Dallas with a 9-7 win at Toyota Arena. The series shifted to the Allen Event Center and the Fury eliminated Dallas with a 10-7 win to advance.

Kansas City, though higher-seeded, played the opening game of their series at home and took a one-game lead with a 7-4 win. The teams traveled to the Family Arena where the Comets advanced to the Semi-Finals by a 6-2 final.

Ron Newman Cup Semi-Finals

Like the opening round, the highest seed, in this case the Florida Tropics selected their opponent, and they chose San Diego which pitted the Fury and Comets against each other. Unlike the opening round, all Semi-Final games took place at Cable Dahmer Arena.

The Tropics took the Sockers to overtime in the opening game before Brian Farber sent in the game winner just over two minutes into the extra frame, ending the game with a 5-4 final. The second game was also decided by one goal,4-3, with Christian Gutierrez getting the winning goal with 1:45 left in regulation. San Diego defeated the number one seed to advance to the Finals.

As so many games this season went, every game of the Ontario vs Kansas City series, including the 15-minutes mini game was decided by a single goal. The Fury and Comets took the opening game to double-overtime before Franck Tayou completed his hat-trick to end the game, 8-7 with 9:19 left in the second OT.

Needing a win to force the mini game, the Comets came through with a 7-6 OT win with Dom Francis ending the game with his third goal of the night, setting up the deciding 3rd game. Francis opened scoring in the mini-game for the Comets, but Jorge Deleon and Uzi Tayou scored for the Fury to pick up the 2-1 win and advance to the Finals.

Ron Newman Cup Finals

The format of all teams competing without conferences or divisions set up a Ron Newman Cup Finals we could get no other way. We were going to see two teams from the same conference and when play was divisional, from the same division. The San Diego Sockers and Ontario Fury were playing for the Cup with both games taking place at Ontario’s Toyota Arena which would allow fans for the first time this season.

The first game of the series was also perhaps the first time we saw the Sockers play the way we are used to seeing. They jumped out to a 3-0 lead after the first quarter and following a Fury goal, went on to score the next three goals as well. Despite being out-shot 36-18 by Ontario, the Sockers cruised to a 7-3 win, bringing them within one game of their first MASL title.

San Diego jumped out to an early 2-0 lead in Game 2, triggering a five straight goal response from Ontario, including three goals from Franck Tayou, giving the Fury a 5-2 lead with 14:23 to go in the 4th quarter. Sockers’ goals from Leo de Oliveira and a pair from Brandon Escoto leveled the game at 5-5 at the end of regulation forcing overtime. It took just 49 seconds for Robert Palmer to win the game for Ontario and the teams headed for a 15-minute mini game.

In the game to decide the Ron Newman Cup Champions, Abdul Mansaray used an Israel Sesay assist to give Ontario a 1-0 lead with 6:16 left. 14 seconds later, Marcio Leite and Escoto combined for the Sockers to tie the game at 1-1. It stayed that way until the final minute when San Diego’s captain, Kraig Chiles connected with Cesar Cerda for the game-winning goal with 0:56 remaining. The final goal came after MASL Goalkeeper of the Year, Claysson De Lima was removed for concussion protocol following a collision with one of his teammates.