Sockers complete Mexico sweep with 6-3 win in Monterrey
MONTERREY, NUEVO LEON, MX—The San Diego Sockers entered the weekend at their lowest point, and emerged once again as the best team in the Major Arena Soccer League.
Ismael Rojo scored a hat trick, Kraig Chiles had two goals with an assist, and Boris Pardo made 18 saves as the Sockers beat the Monterrey Flash 6-3 on Sunday afternoon at Arena Monterrey. Leonardo de Oliveira added a goal and assist and Brandon Escoto contributed two assists on the power play for a Sockers side that moved six points clear of the field for the league’s best record.
San Diego (14-2, 41 points) became the first team in the MASL this season to sweep all six points in a two-match Mexico road trip. Six points ahead of second-place Chihuahua with a match in hand, the Sockers are the first MASL club to cross the 40-point threshold this season, and have a chance at home next weekend to entrench themselves as the statistical favorites to win back-to-back MASL Supporters Shields.
In doing so, the Sockers displayed the depth that is the foundation of head coach/owner Phil Salvagio’s championship architecture. San Diego played the weekend without seven possible starters due to suspensions, travel restrictions and work conflicts. Despite it all, the Sockers found wins in two inhospitable locales thanks to contributions up and down the lineup.
Chiles led the way with five goals and two assists on the weekend, a likely MASL Player of the Week performance. But it wasn’t all the work of the captain. Rookie Irvin Mojica scored twice on Friday in Chihuahua, and on Sunday the story was Ismael Rojo, breaking out for the first time in a Sockers uniform.
Ismael “Big” Rojo has been the player Sockers coaches and staff have dreamed upon for years. Unable to acquire a P-1 working visa, the Mexican national has previously only been able to feature for teams working or playing in Mexico, or in the second division. He was a part of the league’s all-Rookie team playing for Soles de Sonora in 2019-20, and earned MASL-2 MVP honors while leading Sockers-2 to the championship in 2021-22. Finally cleared to play for the MASL Sockers, Rojo toiled as a fifth midfielder for a handful of games before getting his real chance to play as an offense-first defender this weekend in Chihuahua and Monterrey.
After Chiles put the Sockers up 1-0 on a lovely trap of goalkeeper Boris Pardo’s long thrown distribution, turning for his 13th goal of the season at 1:17, “Big Rojo” got to work. He corralled a Monterrey defensive sweeping attempt less than eight minutes into the match, watching one bounce before lacing the ball right-to-left into the side netting for his first goal of the season and a 2-0 San Diego lead at 7:45.
The Flash answered back after Sockers defensive captain Cesar Cerda was shown a blue card two-minute penalty for tripping with just over five minutes remaining in the first quarter.
Midfielder Daniel Villela’s outside skipping pass looped to the toe of former Socker Erick Tovar, who scooped the ball athletically into the top netting at 10:46 to narrow the lead to 2-1. San Diego carried their one-goal advantage into the second quarter, out-shooting Monterrey 10-4.
While the Flash had more of the possession of the ball in the second quarter, they didn’t have Ismael Rojo on their side, and that was a problem. On a corner kick just seconds into the frame, Chiles looped a balloon-like distribution back to the yellow line, taken out of the air by Rojo on first touch for a blistering rocket into the back of the net. The goal shocked fans and family alike, as a stunned Flash side watched Rojo celebrate his second goal of the match and a 3-1 San Diego lead.
Later in the quarter, Leonardo de Oliveira knocked down a potential Flash shot for a block, carried the ball forward and up the right wall, then spotted an open Ismael Rojo free in the middle of the field. “Big” took one touch then smashed his third goal of the half past Christian Hernandez (12/20 saves) at 8:51 to give the Sockers a 4-1 edge. San Diego carried the lead into halftime with Pardo recording four of his eighteen saves in the quarter.
The Sockers have been troubled by poor second-half performances throughout the month, but took advantage of an early Monterrey mistake to grab greater hold of the match. When the Flash’s Jorge Luis Cortés was shown a blue card for a tripping penalty, the league-leading San Diego power play went to work. Brandon Escoto’s cross-field pass found Chiles for a sneaky shot inside the left post, freezing the entire Flash defense at 2:12 to build a 5-1 Sockers lead.
Monterrey made their attempted comeback behind midfielder Luis Genaro Castillo, who scored back-to-back goals at 3:25 and 14:52 of the third quarter to draw the score-line back to a 5-3 San Diego advantage. However, the Flash had to stare themselves in the mirror after being carded for too many men on the floor less than thirty seconds into the fourth quarter. Gifted the man advantage, the Sockers cashed in, as Escoto found Leo for his ninth goal of the season at 2:53, setting the final margin of victory. The Sockers improved to 18-for-35 (51%) on the power play, leading the league in efficiency and goals.
San Diego concludes the longest road trip of the season with a 4-2 record, improving to 8-2 overall away from home. The Sockers will play six of their final eight matches at Pechanga Arena, where the club is 6-0 so far this season. With a familiar run of success, San Diego can ensure that the road to the Ron Newman Cup once again runs through America’s Finest City.
The next match will be on Saturday when the Sockers host the Dallas Sidekicks for Alumni Night. The match will feature the annual Alumni Halftime Game, a tribute to the 1982-83 MISL championship team including special guest MVP Alan Mayer, and a live broadcast on Fox-5 San Diego. Tickets are available for individuals or groups by calling (866) 799-GOAL or visiting sdsockers.com.