Chihuahua scores in golden goal of the Knockout Game to eliminate San Diego 1-0
SAN DIEGO, CA.—Carlos “Poper” Hernandez netted the golden goal 3:20 into sudden death overtime of the Knockout Game, giving the Chihuahua Savage a 1-0 victory over the San Diego Sockers, and a 2-1 series victory in the MASL Western Conference Finals. The Savage advance to their first-ever Ron Newman Cup Finals in their second season as a franchise, while the Sockers see their quest for a league three-peat come to a sudden end.
“At the end of the day, that’s why this sport is one of the best around,” said head coach Phil Salvagio of the drama of the night, where the Sockers won to force the Knockout Game only to fall in golden goal, “It was so exciting, and everyone was in it. We had a great crowd tonight, unbelievable all the way around. We’re all sad, we’re all disappointed.”
The Sockers beat the Savage 6-2 in Match Two to begin the evening, supported by a season-high crowd of 3,413 fans at Pechanga Arena San Diego. The win forced the Knockout Game, a 15-minute match to decide the series. San Diego had three chances to win the Knockout Game in regulation, including Leonardo de Oliveira’s last-second shot, which was on frame but knocked away by Chihuahua keeper Berna Valdovinos (4-for-4 saves). From a kneeling stop of a 1-v-1 chance from Felipe Gonzalez to multiple Tavoy Morgan attempts, Berna was impenetrable in the clinching match.
The Savage made four lineup changes to their roster from match to match, and showed extra spring in golden goal, out-shooting the Sockers 6-1. The series winner was a goal of quality from a player of quality, long-time indoor veteran “Poper” Hernandez. Known for his wicked right-footed shot, Hernandez waited back on a scramble in the crease and saw the ball poked out to him on high left wing by rookie Jaime Alejandro Romero. Poper took one touch with his head up then unleashed a curving strike around defender Mitchell Cardenas and into the net past MASL Goalkeeper of the Year Boris Pardo.
“When you have to win twice in one night, it’s so hard,” said Salvagio, “At the end of the night we were tired. Exhausted. It’s a very tough game.”
Especially heartbroken after the match was de Oliveira, who played with a painful right quad injury that made it almost impossible for him to shoot with his dominant foot. Leo scored a left-footed goal in the first quarter of Match Two, but winced in obvious pain every time he used his right. Despite it all, de Oliveira continued to play maximum minutes throughout both matches.
San Diego dominated the early going of Match Two, taking a 3-0 lead after the first quarter on goals by Mitchell Cardenas, Leo and Christian Gutierrez. Tavoy Morgan, Luis “Peewee” Ortega and Kraig Chiles added goals as the match wore on, with Hugo Puentes and Roberto Escalante netting for the Savage. Down 6-1 eight minutes into the third quarter, Chihuahua essentially conceded the remainder of the match to save their legs for the Knockout Game, and it worked.
“This was our strategy, we knew we were (going to) lose the full match and put our effort in the second match,” said Chihuahua head coach Everardo Sanchez through a translator, “We are very proud because this is the first time we have won in San Diego, and beating the Sockers here is very complicated.”
The Savage advance to face the winner of the Eastern Conference Final between Milwaukee and Baltimore, which will be decided on Sunday. The Sockers will regroup and return to search for their 17th indoor championship once again in the 2023-24, their final season at Pechanga Arena.