by Craig Elsten/Sockers

CHIHUAHUA, MX. - The San Diego Sockers open Ron Newman Cup semifinal action when they take on the Chihuahua Savage at Corner Sport Arena in Chihuahua on Monday evening, in Match One of the best-of-three series. The match will be broadcast live in Spanish on Twitch at 6:35pm on channel @masl_soccer, with an English-language broadcast airing on the Sockers’ Twitch channel, @sandiegosockers.

The Ron Newman Cup playoffs feature the top eight teams in the Major Arena Soccer League. Division winners earned the top three seeds, with the five next-best point totals qualifying as wild cards. The opening round saw San Diego, Florida, Kansas City, and Chihuahua all advance, the top four seeds in the bracket. The lower-seeded club hosts the first match, and the higher-seeded club the second. If the series is tied 1-1 after two matches, a fifteen-minute Knockout Game follows to determine the winner. The semifinal winners will meet in the Ron Newman Cup Finals.

The Sockers (23-0-1, 66 points) were the top club in the MASL through the 2021-22 regular season, winning the MASL Shield as the regular season champions. Including the playoffs, San Diego has won twenty-two consecutive matches, the longest active streak in the MASL. The Sockers have only lost once all season, an overtime 8-7 setback to Ontario on January 9. San Diego’s exploits include a perfect 12-0 record on the road this season. The Sockers’ win streak has included four overtime victories, three in sudden death and one in a shootout, a total which reduced the club’s standing points by four under the new MASL rules. San Diego is the #1 seed in the Ron Newman Cup playoffs, with home-field advantage throughout.

The Sockers and the expansion Chihuahua Savage are meeting in the playoffs for the first time in MASL history. Rivals in the MASL West Division, the Sockers and Savage met four times in the regular season, with San Diego taking all four victories. While the Sockers prevailed 4-1 and 6-2 in their home matches, the two matches in Chihuahua were both tense affairs. San Diego edged out 6-5 (OT) and 11-10 (OT) victories at Corner Sport Arena. The Sockers are the only team to have beaten Chihuahua twice at home; the Savage are 11-1-2 at home this season counting playoffs, and have won eleven straight home matches.

The quarterfinals saw the Sockers and Savage take different routes to reach one another in the semis. San Diego was able to cruise past 8th seed Milwaukee in a two-match sweep, posting a 9-2 result in Milwaukee, and a 9-3 win at Pechanga Arena. Chihuahua, by contrast, dropped their opening playoff match in Baltimore 5-4, and needed to beat the Blast twice at home in order to advance. The Savage held off Baltimore 4-3 in Match Two, then prevailed 5-1 in the Knockout Game to move on.

Chihuahua (15-7-2, 44 points regular season) led the league with 185 goals scored in the regular season (the Sockers scored 182 goals). After an 0-5-2 start, the Savage crushed MASL competition, winning 15 of their final 17 matches. Head coach Luis Jaime Borrego has assembled a roster filled with former MASL stalwarts from inactive franchises Monterrey and Sonora, led by Jorge “Pareja” Rios, who tallied (33-11=44) points to lead the Savage. Veteran Enrique Cañez has led the Savage in playoff scoring with (4-1=5) points in the quarterfinals. Goalkeeper Berna Valdovinos went 14-2-2 in the regular season (5.79 GAA, .679 SV%) in 18 starts.