Challenged at home, with first place and multiple winning streaks on the line, the San Diego Sockers came up with the big plays needed to secure not only another win, but a historic marker for their Goalkeeper of the Year.
Charlie Gonzalez netted a first-half hat trick, Christian Gutierrez scored the go-ahead goal 2:50 into the fourth quarter and Boris Pardo saved 15 of 19 shots faced as the Sockers (9-0, 26 points) beat the Chihuahua Savage 6-4 on Sunday night at Pechanga Arena. Pardo won his 100th MASL match in net (100-22-7), the first goalkeeper in history to reach 100 wins.
“This team is special, from the back all the way to the front,” said Pardo, who leads the league in the goalkeeping triple crown of wins (9), goals-against average (3.09) and save percentage (.761), “This is a good statement win, but we have to keep that hungry mentality.”
The Sockers won their 29th straight regular season match, extending their MASL record, and their 15th straight at home. The club is 46-0-4 in their last 50 matches played. And yet, a loss would have dropped them from first to fourth place in the ultra-competitive Western Conference. Facing a tenacious Savage team that came in having won 22 of 25 themselves, the result was extra-important for a club looking to win home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
“We expected a challenge from Chihuahua with the firepower they have,” said Pardo, “They’re a great team, and we did a good job defensively to shut them out in the fourth quarter, that was a huge thing.”
The Sockers improved to 5-0 in the regular season against the Savage (7-1-1, 21 points), and looked to have control of the match in the first half. Charlie Gonzalez got the scoring started with a scintillating individual play, as he poked away a steal from Chihuahua defender Adrian Miller, took a touch in on net, and rifled a shot past goalkeeper Berna Valdovinos at 10:04 of the first quarter.
“You want to get that first goal, that’s what gets the momentum going,” said Charlie, who called himself 50-50 to have played in the match due to nagging injuries, “I was really happy to get that steal there, and then my other two goals were great passes from my teammates. It was a great team effort.”
Tavoy Morgan’s point-blank shot just seconds after Gonzalez opened the scoring was parried away by Valdovinos but fell to the crashing Hiram “Pollo” Ruiz, who slashed home his first goal of the season at 10:54 for a 2-0 lead and two goals in fifty seconds.
Alvaro Luevano netted a rebound goal at 9:39 of the second period to put Chihuahua on the board, but the Sockers had a quick answer. After a blue card penalty was shown to the Savage’sMiguel Angel Diaz for contact to the head, San Diego’s power play came to life, with Kraig Chiles rolling a perfect pass to Charlie on the left wing, who stepped into a rocket that found side netting for a 3-1 lead at 10:39.
A critical moment in the match came in the final minute of the second quarter and set the stage for the Savage comeback to follow. Chihuahua’s Hugo Puentes took a hand to the face from Morgan during contact between the two players, who both spun to the ground. While the Savage were looking for a foul (and possible card) against San Diego, the foul was instead called against Chihuahua, and a quick restart ensued. With Savage players busy complaining to the officials, Leonardo de Oliveira put the ball down and immediately rolled a pass to Charlie for his third goal of the half, a back-breaker at 14:46.
The Savage players and coaches vociferously argued all the way into the locker room, and their determination spun in their sanctuary like a tornado waiting to be unleashed on the floor. In rapid third-quarter succession, Edgar “Torrez” Gonzalez, Brandon Gonzalez and Roberto Escalante scored. Three goals in a total of under four minutes had leveled the match 4-4 at 5:39 of the third quarter.
Suddenly, every streak, honor, award, and table placement for the Sockers was back up for grabs. Chihuahua faded a shootout power play, awarded after Valdovinos was properly ruled to have handled a ball outside his crease. Reserve keeper Ivan “Terry” Muñoz stopped the Kraig Chiles shootout attempt and got through the power play unscathed while Valdovinos watched from the penalty box.
Still tied 4-4, the match turned on a goal created on the streets of Tijuana and celebrated in San Diego. Brandon Escoto, who had missed two matches due to illness, pounced on an aerial loose ball at midfield and pushed up the floor. As he was tackled from behind, drawing a delayed blue-card penalty, he head-manned a pass on right wing to fellow Tijuanense Christian Gutierrez. The forward smartly whipped a wall pass off the goal wall to himself as he angled into the crease, then beat Valdovinos to the ball, clipping it into the net at 2:51 for a 5-4 lead.
The match was cinched on a sequence that revealed everything about the intensity, end-to-end action and the delicious randomness of the MASL. As the Savage pushed furiously for the tie with under five minutes to play, Adrian Miller found himself in a quick 2-v-1 from the right wing attacking. His long shot was touched just enough by Pardo’s foot, hit the inside of the left post and caromed hard all the way out to midfield. Escoto was once again there to find the ball on the run and push a 3-v-2 counter-attack up the middle. He laid off a pass to Felipe Gonzalez on left wing, who returned the favor with a wall pass back to an open Escoto in the middle of the crease for a point-blank blast, his seventh goal of the season and a clincher at 11:01.
With the win, San Diego maintained a two-point edge over Mesquite and Empire (24 points) for first place, with multiple games in hand on both. The Sockers will host the Mesquite Outlaws in their next match on Friday, a 7:35 kickoff on Star Wars Night. Tickets are available by calling (866) 799-GOAL or visiting sdsockers.com