Christian “Golden” Gutierrez scores in OT as Sockers beat Empire 8-7
ONTARIO, CA—Christian “Golden” Gutierrez scored the match-winning golden goal 23 seconds into overtime, as the San Diego Sockers recovered from a fourth-quarter collapse in Ontario, beating the Empire Strykers 8-7 on Thursday night at Toyota Arena. The Sockers (16-2, 46 points) had blown a 7-3 lead in the fourth quarter before nicking the winner in overtime.
Gutierrez earned his nickname “Golden” for a series of playoff overtime game-winners, beginning with back-to-back golden goals in the 2021 Ron Newman Cup playoffs, played in Ontario. Returning to the scene of his previous exploits, Gutierrez mined some more gold out of what otherwise looked like a yawning chasm of collapse. Winning possession out of the defensive zone, rookie midfielder Luis Perez sent a perfect pass up the left wall, sending Gutierrez in on net. His initial shot hit high off the frame, carrying Gutierrez into the corner, but defender Juan Manuel Rojo recovered the ball and fed Christian running back into the crease, who slotted home his seventeenth goal of the season.
Despite the victory, which narrowed the Sockers’ magic number to clinch the MASL Shield to seven points, the mood in the locker room was more of a losing side than a winner. San Diego had largely controlled the match through 48 minutes, only to see Empire score the final four goals of the fourth quarter, including an equalizer with 1:43 left on a defensive giveaway.
“That was a little bit of an emotional roller coaster,” said team captain Kraig Chiles, who had a goal and assist in the victory, “We weren’t good enough in the fourth quarter again, and we need to put our thumb on that in the next couple weeks and make sure we get it right.”
The Strykers (12-5-2, 36 points) stole a point thanks to the heroics of rookie midfielder Gabriel Costa, who produced a six-point game with three goals and three assists. Fellow midfielder Maicon de Abreu had points on three straight fourth-quarter goals, scoring the last two to tie the score at 7-7.
An intensely physical match saw the Sockers on the receiving end of multiple blows to the head, including a kick to the throat on Leonardo de Oliveira by Empire defender Robert Palmer, and a post-match headbutt by de Abreu on San Diego forward Tavoy Morgan that forced both clubs to be separated on the floor after the final goal.
“I think we were hard done again,” said a frustrated Chiles afterwards, “It is frustrating, but we have to do a better job of managing our emotions late in the game.”
The Sockers entered the match wanting to change the tempo from their last match in Ontario, a 10-4 loss on February 8, when the Strykers were able to grab an early 2-0 lead in the first quarter. As he has through the past three weeks, the captain Kraig Chiles set the early tone. In his first shift, Chiles dug out an entry pass in the low left corner and turned on net, drawing a foul and a wing free kick. Chiles took it from there, noting a gap in the Empire wall and smashing his 18th goal on a direct kick into the right-side netting. San Diego led 1-0 at the 2:44 mark.
Empire was able to equalize quickly when Mo Ndiaye’s pass forward was perfectly timed and weighted, setting up rookie midfielder Gabriel Costa with room on left wing. With the defender’s back turned, Costa snapped off a quick shot over Pardo’s left shoulder for his fifteenth goal of the season. The match was level at 1-1 at 3:55.
Just a minute later, the Sockers had the lead back. Working sustained possession in the Empire zone, Brandon Escoto rolled a pass back from the right mid-wall to Mitchell Cardenas. The defender saw room to take a skipping shot which deflected off the leg of a Strykers defender and into the net for Mitchell’s second goal of the season. It was 2-1 San Diego at 4:59 in an active first five minutes.
The Sockers had a chance to extend their first-quarter lead with a breakaway pass from Brian Farber, sending in Ismael Rojo clean on goal from left wing, but the right-footer tried to get his left boot around the ball and skied his shot into the top netting. San Diego led 2-1 after fifteen minutes complete.
San Diego’s sesecond-quarterpark would again come from the man with the captain’s armband. On the floor after a top-of-the-arc free kick, Chiles saw the attempt blocked but stayed on the floor to help orchestrate the action. Spotting an open man out of the corner of his eye, Chiles accepted a forward pass at the attacking yellow line near the boards and kept it moving with a one-touch pass, targeting rookie Luis Perez alone in the middle. Perez made no mistake from point-blank range, netting his first MASL goal at 3:18 of the quarter for a 3-1 lead.
Empire got their next look at a comeback with 6:35 left in the half, when a flubbed pass out of the defensive zone went straight to the toe of Mo Ndiaye, sending the big defender in straightaway on goal, 1-v-1 with Pardo. Boris was up to the task, making a point-blank reaction save with the whole net to guard.
Set pieces are the lifeblood of a club’s offense, and Empire found some life and set piece joy in the final third of the second quarter. Just seconds after the Sockers came up dry on a top-arc set piece attempt, Tayou was able to draw a foul on the attacking left wing. On the restart, Gabriel Costa crossed a pass from left wall to right wing, where Mo Ndiaye’s shot was either slightly deflected or found the perfect path into the left corner of the net, clawing back a goal for the hosts at 11:41 for a 3-2 score line.
Costa continued to reveal his shiftiness and quick shot with a stutter step move in the final 90 seconds of the half, forcing Pardo to make a tough reaction save through traffic, and then watch a second try from Costa sail just high from the corner. Leonardo de Oliveira blocked a potential Franck Tayou shot in the final two seconds, and the Sockers took a 3-2 lead into the half.
The Sockers looked to push their advantage as the third quarter began with high pressure. After warding off a couple Empire offensive attacks, the Strykers played the ball back through their keeper Toth and San Diego pounced. With Escoto nearby, Ismael Rojo blocked Toth’s attempted clearance, fought through Toth’s leg tackle attempt and had himself a wide-open net to score his fifth goal in three matches for a 4-2 lead at 2:45. Empire head coach Jimmy Nordberg spent his challenge flag hoping for a foul to reverse the goal, but the replay showed that if there was a foul at all, it was on Toth.
Felipe Gonzalez was brought to the floor with a hard tackle that forced trainer Paul Savage to administer minutes of attention on the bench. Three minutes later, Felipe returned to the field and immediately executed a give-and-go with Cardenas. Passing the ball back to Cardenas at the defensive yellow line, Felipe immediately flew up the right wall, and accepted an over-the-shoulder pass from Mitchell down to his right foot. Gonzalez’s shot-pass to the back post was deflected into the Empire net by defender Robert Palmer at 7:23 for a 5-2 edge.
Late in the third quarter, both clubs got the opportunity to have a power play. Empire killed off a two-minute blue card on Ndiaye for tripping from 7:18-5:18 in the frame. The Strykers got their chance when Felipe Gonzalez was called for a handball denying a scoring chance with 2:08 left in the quarter.
The Sockers killed the first half of the power play but then saw unfortunate happenstance strike. Tracking from post-to-post, Pardo took contact to the head from Empire’s Nestor Hernandez, ruled inadvertent. Nonetheless, Pardo was dazed and stayed down for multiple minutes receiving attention. Once he was able to resume play, Costa squared a left-to-right pass to Ndiaye in a near carbon copy of their set piece goal, with Ndiaye finishing through Pardo’s cross-net save attempt at 14:20 of the third quarter. Just like that, the score was 5-3 and the Strykers had another look at the result.
Then came the fourth quarter, and a mini-takeover by Sockers midfielder Charlie Gonzalez in the first three minutes. Winning an aerial challenge from a bigger defender, Gonzalez brought down a pass into the attacking zone, drove the net and dished to Felipe Gonzalez for a back post tap-in at :33, erasing the late Empire goal and re-establishing a three-goal advantage at 6-3.
Seconds later, Robert Palmer’s reckless tackle was deemed worthy of a blue card, and the Sockers went on their second power play. This time, San Diego would convert in the closing seconds of the man advantage. Brandon Escoto fed Charlie Gonzalez on right wing, and with a stop-and-go move, Charlie freed his left foot for a toe poke inside the right post, good for his fifteenth goal of the season and a 7-3 lead at 2:50.
While a four-goal lead in the fourth quarter is usually money in the bank, the Strykers’ Gabriel Costa would make sure to extract a withdrawal in the form of two quick goals, putting the match result very much back in play. First, Costa was able to beat Pardo on his near post on a corner shot that got through the keeper’s hands at 4:04 for a quick answer and a 7-4 score. Then at 7:11, Costa’s adventurous try from well beyond the yellow line snaked through traffic and past a diving Pardo for his hat trick goal, narrowing the edge to 7-5.
It took very little time for the Stykers to get another. This time, Maicon de Abreu was left unmarked on the left post, as defender Guerrero Pino was caught watching Costa on the ball. The rookie midfielder slid a perfect pass down to de Abreu for the sharp angle goal at 8:48, and suddenly an Empire comeback win was very much in play.
The Sockers received a power play with 4:02 remaining when Palmer’s high boot struck Leonardo de Oliveira in the throat. Leo received a yellow card for his words to Palmer after getting off the floor. San Diego was unable to score, and seconds after returning to full strength, Empire was gifted the tie. Under heavy pressure, Escoto tried to dribble the ball out of trouble right in front of his net and instead was swarmed for a steal. Maicon de Abreu got the ball and needed just one touch to walk around Pardo and tap in the equalizer at 13:17.
The Sockers now return home for a three-match homestand in which three wins would clinch the MASL Supporters Shield (and home-field advantage in the playoffs) outright. San Diego hosts Monterrey on Friday, March 17 before welcoming the Strykers to San Diego on Sunday, March 19 and Friday, March 24. Tickets for all three matches are available by visiting sdsockers.com or calling (866) 799-GOAL.