Juan Manuel Rojo scores golden goal in 5-4 OT win over Tacoma

by Pete Richmire

SAN DIEGO—Juan Manuel Rojo completed his hat trick 1:39 into golden goal overtime, scoring the match winner as the San Diego Sockers beat the Tacoma Stars 5-4 on Saturday night at Pechanga Arena. The Sockers (22-2, 62 points) won their tenth in a row to close out the regular season, finished a 12-0 home schedule and won their 22nd in a row overall on Ron Newman Field.

Despite the loss, the Stars (12-10-2, 37 points) qualified for the Ron Newman Cup playoffs, thanks to Mesquite’s 7-2 win over Empire. The entire MASL Western Division will wait for Sunday’s result in Monterrey, where the Flash will face a 1-19-3 Dallas side needing a win to clinch a playoff berth. If the Flash win, Tacoma will host the MASL Play-In Game on Wednesday against Mesquite, with Monterrey facing Chihuahua in the quarterfinals, and San Diego awaiting the Play-In Game winner.

Rojo, who became the eighth player on the Sockers to score ten or more goals this season, used his best-in-league speed burst on the ball to dominate 1-v-1 matchups on the left side of the floor. Accepting a pass in possession from captain Kraig Chiles at midfield in overtime, Rojo sized up the Stars’ Jamael “Juice” Cox, one of the quicker players in the West, and flew by him on a patented hesitation move before toe-poking his shot past keeper Danny Waltman and into the net.

“We knew it was golden goal and I’ve been successful with the one-on-one (attack), so we went for that and got the win,” said Rojo, “I was very grateful.”

Chiles had three assists for the Sockers, and finished the regular season as the club’s co-leading scorer with (21-19=40) points. Tavoy Morgan scored his club-leading 24th goal, with Charlie Gonzalez adding a power play goal. The Sockers finished the regular season with 99 goals conceded, the only club to concede fewer than 100 goals for the second straight season.

Playing for their playoff lives, the Stars ramped up the pressure trailing 4-2 to start the fourth quarter. Facing reserve keeper Xavier Snaer-Williams, who subbed for Boris Pardo (W, 21-2) to start the frame, Tacoma found goals at 2:37 and 5:58 to knot the score. Nick Perera used a fabulous individual effort to score his second goal of the match and 33rd of the season, then Chiva Ramirez finished Felipe Souza’s second straight assist to level the score.

Gaining the ball in the final minute, the Stars knew the score and the result in Mesquite, and took the air out of the ball to reach overtime. San Diego subbed Pardo back in, and Perera missed high on his one chance to bring the golden goal to Tacoma.

The Sockers took a 2-1 lead after the first quarter. The Stars scored first on another Perera solo effort, turning defender Mitchell Cardenas into a tight spot in the right corner before snapping a quick shot over Pardo just 29 seconds into the match. Rojo and Morgan answered back at 2:40 and 6:50, and a scoreless second quarter allowed San Diego to hold the 2-1 lead into halftime.

Former Sockers-2 striker Alan Crespo netted his eighth goal of the season at 6:57 to tie the score 2-2, but San Diego used their replay challenge to great effect moments later. Luis “Peewee” Ortega was knocked off a lead pass in front of the net by Logan Jones, originally ruled as no foul, but reversed to a blue card penalty after head coach Phil Salvagio threw his challenge flag. The Sockers took advantage, with Charlie Gonzalez calmly slotting his 17th goal of the season and sixth power play goal with a left-wing finish of Chiles’ simple pass.

Rojo rocketed in a goal from beyond the yellow line off a Chiles left-wall restart pass at 12:17 of the third to give San Diego their two-goal lead, but the Stars got what they needed in the fourth to secure their playoff fate. If Tacoma can win a home play-in game, the Sockers and Stars will meet again in the Ron Newman Cup quarterfinals. San Diego finished the regular season with a 2-0 record against Tacoma, and improved to 29-4 against the Stars all-time in the MASL.

The Sockers will now await the sorting of the Western Division standings and Play-In Game to determine their opponent. The most likely home playoff date is Sunday, April 9 at 5:05pm. Tickets to all three rounds of the playoffs are available for sale at sdsockers.com or by calling (866) 799-GOAL.