by Pete Richmire

ONTARIO, CAThe Sockers took the road less traveled to a familiar destination.

Cesar Cerda’s goal with 54 seconds remaining in the 15-minute Mini-Game snapped a 1-1 tie and lifted the San Diego Sockers to a 15th professional indoor championship, beating the Ontario Fury 2-1 to take a 2-1 series win, and the Major Arena Soccer League title. The Sockers lost 6-5 in overtime to Ontario in Game Two to even the series, then came back 30 minutes later, rallying from a 1-0 deficit in the Mini-Game to win.

“I’m so proud of this team, they worked hard all year to do this,” said head coach Phil Salvagio after the match, “This is a special team that came together, played with heart, and they earned this ring.”

A day filled with emotion ended with the Sockers holding up the Ron Newman Cup for the third time in franchise history, but the first in the MASL. Forced to play the entire season outside of San Diego due to the COVID pandemic, the Sockers played 17 away matches, including seven in the playoffs, rallying from a 4-6 regular season to emerge victorious.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” said team captain Kraig Chiles, who produced the game-winning assist on an over-the-shoulder pass to Cerda, “We’ve waited a long time, (eight years), to get back to the top. It was a total team effort and everyone did their part.”

Leonardo de Oliveira was named MASL Finals MVP after scoring three goals in the series, including a pair of scores in Game Two. Brandon Escoto was another worthy nominee, scoring two goals with two assists in Game Two and adding an assist in the Mini-Game.

After a 7-3 win over Ontario in Friday’s Game One, the Sockers knew coming into Sunday they would need one win, while the Fury would need to prevail twice to take the championship. Ontario did their part to force the action, rallying from a 2-0 deficit in Game Two to score five straight goals while shutting out the Sockers for 40 minutes of game play. San Diego answered back in the fourth with three straight goals for a 5-5 tie. Robert Palmer’s golden goal 51 seconds into OT sealed the win for the Fury and set the stage for the Mini-Game.

In the 15-minute Mini-Game, the Fury struck first. Rookie Abdul Mansaray, who had not been selected for action prior to Game Two, finished a counter-attack run with a goal from Israel Sesay at 8:44 for a 1-0 lead.

Just fourteen seconds later, the Sockers found their way back to level ground. After a defensive clearance by Ontario, San Diego was awarded a top-of-arc set piece. Brandon Escoto’s short back heel pass found Marcio Leite, who roofed his shot over Fury keeper Claysson de Lima for the tie at 8:58.

Nervous moments followed, as Chiles was shown a blue card penalty for contact above the shoulders. The Fury were unable to score on the two-minute man advantage, hitting the crossbar once.

With 91 seconds remaining in the Mini-Game, an aerial challenge saw two Ontario players collide, with de Lima falling hard to the ground. After minutes of medical attention, de Lima was able to get back on his feet, but had to leave the game for concussion protocol. 45-year-old veteran Jesus “Chuy” Molina played his first minutes of game action all season in the final two minutes of the match.

The game winning play, as so often happens in the sport of indoor, developed quickly out of nowhere. Chiles set up on right elbow to accept a lead pass with back to goal, and chipped it over his head on one touch to Cerda, who was running past him. Cerda accepted the flip pass and knocked it past Molina on the short side of the goal, delivering the eventual game-winner.

The final seconds would not be without drama, however, as the Fury pulled their keeper for a sixth attacker. A free kick with 15 seconds remaining turned into a series of scrambling attacks. Sockers keeper William Vanzela made back-to-back saves, but Ontario flipped the ball back into the scoring area. Jeff Hughes’ attempt went just over crossbar, and the loose ball was covered as time expired. The Fury challenged the play, asking for instant replay review on a possible hand-ball by Vanzela outside the crease, but MASL director of officiating Ryan Cigich ruled Vanzela’s foot was on the crease line when contact was made, denying the penalty.

The title was the fifteenth overall, the most in the history of the sport, as well as the fifth for the modern iteration of the Sockers, who returned to play in the PASL in 2009. San Diego’s drought of eight seasons without a championship ended with champagne, confetti, and silverware headed home.

Sockers championship merchandise will be available for pre-sale on the team website,, starting on Monday.