Sockers Advance To West Finals

by Pete Richmire

With their best effort of the season, the San Diego Sockers ensured their season would continue. 

Brandon Escoto scored a hat trick in Match Two and added a goal in the Knockout Game, as the Sockers advanced past the Texas Outlaws in the MASL Ron Newman Cup Western Division Semifinals, winning Match Two 8-3 to force a 15-minute Knockout Game, then prevailing 4-0 to win the series 2-1. Goalkeeper Boris Pardo led the way with 17-of-20 saves over the two matches, including a clean sheet in the deciding match. 

A late-night Monday crowd of 1,601, bolstered by a healthy turnout of supporter groups, kept the energy high in the “Grand Old Arena”, where the Sockers tenure as tenants was dependent on the night’s result. San Diego is moving into the brand-new Frontwave Arena in Oceanside next season. But first, they will rematch against the defending Ron Newman Cup champion Chihuahua Savage in the second round. 

The Knockout Game saw San Diego take early control of possession, and calmly work for the opening goal. Passing the ball out of the corner, Leonardo de Oliveira found Mitchell Cardenas, who quickly centered a pass to an open Gabriel Costa at the top of the crease. Costa took a touch to his left before lacing a left-footed shot off the fingers of goalkeeper Eduardo “Pollo” Cortes and into the net at 4:14 for a 1-0 lead.

Costa then earned the only penalty of the night, drawing a blue card when his run up the middle was shouldered to the turf by Texas defender Emmanuel Aguirre. While San Diego did not score on the two-minute power play, they wore down the Outlaws defense. Then, de Oliveira created a bit of indoor magic, stepping out from the right wall before using his left (off) foot to curve a shot of menacing pace over the keeper and into the top net at 9:53 for a 2-0 advantage. Escoto and Felipe Gonzalez added goals at 10:30 and 11:33 to wrap up the match and send the Sockers through to the next round. 

San Diego used a quick burst of three first-quarter goals in 45 seconds to take control of the full, 60-minute Match Two. Escoto got his big night started by getting on the end of a hard-earned service by forward Tavoy Morgan, who received a pass just feet from the net and warded off Cortes long enough to find a passing lane. The goal at 5:52 made it 1-0 Sockers. 

Seconds later, a defensive clearance by Texas gifted San Diego a top-arc set piece, and captain Kraig Chiles rolled a perfect pass to Escoto in the identical right-wing location, where he smashed a volley past Cortes at 6:16 for 2-0. Before the goal could be announced to the crowd, Felipe Gonzalez stole the Outlaws’ midfield pass and sent it to Charlie Gonzalez on the right wall, who returned the favor with a centering feed to Felipe. The midfielder was alone in the middle of the crease for his first goal of the playoffs at 6:37, giving the Sockers a quick 3-0 lead. 

Texas turned to a high-pressure defensive strategy, which worked temporarily to limit San Diego's possession and create chances for the Outlaws. A set piece deep in the Sockers zone was cashed in when David Ortiz’ hard pass was directed into the net by veteran forward Vini Dantas at 3:02 of the second quarter. While the Sockers wound up levying 17 shots on net in the second quarter, they could not pierce the veil of the Texas defense, and the score remained 3-1 heading to halftime. 

The Sockers emerged from the locker room with a defensive intensity rarely seen this season. They clamped down Texas’ stars, and methodically ground the clock while building the lead on Escoto’s hat trick goal at 6:03. San Diego broke the match open with four goals in the fourth quarter, including a pair of empty netters when Texas went to a six-attacker formation. Morgan, Charlie Gonzalez, Juan Gonzalez, and Christian Gutierrez all found goals to set the final score, woven around goals from Dantas and Luiz Morales for the Outlaws. 

The Sockers will now meet the Chihuahua Savage for the third straight season in the Division Finals. In 2021-22, San Diego beat Chihuahua in a three-match series and went on to win the Ron Newman Cup, while the Savage returned the favor in a three-match win last season and then moved on to win the championship themselves. Match One from Chihuahua will kick off at 6:05pm PDT on Thursday, April 18. The return leg in San Diego will take place on Sunday, April 21 at 5:05pm with Match Two, and a Knockout Game to follow if necessary. Tickets will go on sale Tuesday at 10am at or by calling (866) 799-GOAL.