SOCKERS COULD CLINCH SHIELD THIS WEEKEND
The San Diego Sockers—presented by Kaiser Permanente San Diego—continue the March to the Playoffs with a two-match home weekend, first taking on the Monterrey Flash on St. Patrick’s Day Friday night. The match is scheduled for a 7:35pm kickoff from Pechanga Arena, and will be streamed live on Twitch on channel @masl_soccer, with Spanish Language coverage on Twitch channel @sandiegosockers.
The Sockers (16-2, 46 points) have won four in a row, clinching a playoff berth while moving within striking range of clinching the MASL Supporters Shield, awarded to the club with the best record in the Major Arena Soccer League. San Diego leads Chihuahua in the Western Conference by five points in the standings with two matches in hand. The Sockers have a magic number of seven points to clinch the MASL Supporters Shield, meaning a combination of points won by San Diego or lost by Chihuahua. The Savage host Empire Friday night in Chihuahua, and travel to Monterrey on Sunday. The Sockers host Empire on Sunday evening.
Friday is the second of three meetings between the Sockers and Flash in the 2022-23 regular season, and the only time Monterrey visits San Diego. The Sockers will travel to Arena Monterrey on March 26 to wrap up the season series. San Diego won the clubs’ first meeting by a 6-3 score in Monterrey on February 26. The Sockers have an all-time record of 7-9 against Monterrey, dating back to their original meetings in MISL-II in the early 2000s. In the MASL, the Sockers are 3-1-1 against the Flash in the regular season, and 0-2 in the playoffs.
Last week, the Sockers traveled to Ontario and outlasted the Empire Strykers, prevailing by an 8-7 overtime score. San Diego built a 7-3 lead in the fourth quarter, only to see the Strykers score four straight goals to level the score, including Maicon de Abreu’s equalizer with 1:43 left on the clock. Christian Gutierrez scored the golden goal 23 seconds into overtime to claim the result for the Sockers. Felipe Gonzalez scored a brace for San Diego, with Kraig Chiles and Charlie Gonzalez each adding a goal and assist. Brandon Escoto had two assists for the Sockers. Gabriel Costa led all scorers with three goals and three assists for Empire.
Monterrey (10-6-2, 29 points) is leading Tacoma for the fifth and final playoff spot in the MASL Western Conference by five points with six matches remaining for both clubs. The Flash are 5-4 on the road, including 4-3 stateside. Since dropping a 6-3 decision to the Sockers on February 26, the Flash have won three straight matches at home, displaying by far their best offensive form of the season. Monterrey has netted 38 goals in their last three matches, 12.67-per-match, while conceding just 15 goals. Striker Luis Genaro Castillo has eight goals in the three-match outburst, and leads the Flash with 17 goals scored. Midfielder Daniel Villela has three straight multi-point matches. Former Sockers forward Erick Tovar leads Monterrey in scoring with (14-9=23) points, including a six-point surge against Mesquite on February 28 (three goals/three assists). Longtime veteran netminder Diego Reynoso leads the Flash in starts (11), wins (6-3 record), GAA (4.72) and SV% (.714).
It’s Magic Number Time
The Sockers’ overtime win in Ontario last week dropped the club’s magic number to clinch the MASL Supporters Shield to seven points over the Chihuahua Savage. The Sockers also hold magic numbers over Empire (5), Mesquite (5), and Monterrey (1) in the Western Conference, having already clinched a better record than Tacoma and Dallas. Their magic number to finish ahead of Eastern-leading Milwaukee is two. Any combination of seven points won by San Diego or lost by Chihuahua between their four combined matches this weekend would clinch the Shield for the Sockers.
We’ve Made Our Home a Fortress
The Sockers have been the most dominant home team in MASL history, with a 75-6-1 all-time record. San Diego is currently 7-0 at home and riding a 17-match home winning streak. The club is 38-2-1 at home over the past four seasons. The Sockers close the season with five of their final six matches at Pechanga Arena San Diego.
Sockers captain Kraig Chiles is the franchise’s all-time leader in goals (454) and points (658), and is on the long approach to 400 points in the MASL (251-128=379 career, fourth-most). After tying the longest scoring drought of his career with three straight matches without a goal or assist, Chiles—sporting a jaunty mustache--began a scoring barrage on February 24 in Chihuahua, making up for the absence of Tavoy Morgan with a hat trick and assist. He followed it up two days later in Monterrey with two more goals and an assist for a (5-2=7) point weekend, and was named MASL Offensive Player of the Week. Against the Sidekicks and Strykers, Chiles kept the roll going with multi-point games, and now has (9-4=13) points in four matches. Chiles now leads the club in goals (18) and is second in points (28).
For Your Consideration: Boris Pardo for MASL MVP
How do you select a league MVP from a star-laden team? Look to the one man who is the singular through-line for the club’s league-leading defense. The defending MASL Elite VI goalkeeper and MASL Goalkeeper of the Year, 38-year-old Boris Pardo has maintained his all-league form in 2022-23. Pardo is 16-2 in eighteen starts, having played all but 95 minutes total in net this season while starting every match. He leads the MASL in wins (16), GAA (4.01) and ranks fifth in SV% (.716). Friday’s match marks the first time since Opening Night that Pardo has had a GAA above 4.00. All-time in MASL history, Pardo improved his career record to 107-24-7, four wins ahead of second-place William Vanzela. Pardo was the first MASL goalkeeper to reach the 100-win plateau, a feat matched by Vanzela three weeks ago. In 2021-22, Pardo led the MASL in wins (19-0-1 record) and goals-against average (4.20 GAA), while his .731 save percentage was second in the league. Pardo was even better in the playoffs, starting all seven matches and posting a 6-0-1 record, 3.36 GAA and .767 SV%. In 2018-19, Pardo won his first Goalkeeper of the Year award, winning a league-record 22 games in net (22-1 record).
Sockers forward Christian Gutierrez earned the nickname “Golden” for his ability to finish out overtime matches with the clinching goal, a habit he formed with three last-goal clinchers in the 2021 Ron Newman Cup playoffs. Gutierrez kept his golden habits alive in San Diego’s last match with an OT winner in Empire. In addition to being tasked with patrolling the defensive side of the floor, Gutierrez is a potent counter-attack striker who often opens up matches late in the fourth quarter, especially against the empty net. Twelve of Gutierrez’s seventeen goals have been scored in the fourth quarter or later this season. In San Diego’s February 11 match against Tacoma, Gutierrez scored into the empty net against the six-attacker formation twice in the final two minutes, securing the victory. On the season, Gutierrez is second on the club with 17 goals and sixth with 19 points.
Defense Leads the Way
The Sockers have allowed the fewest goals in the MASL (77), eight fewer than second-place Baltimore (85). San Diego’s average of 4.28 goals conceded-per-match compares to a league average of 5.78 goals conceded-per-match. Last season, the Sockers were the only club in the MASL to allow fewer than 100 goals in the regular season (98).
Special Teams Matter
The Sockers are third in the MASL in power play conversion percentage (18-for-38, 47%). San Diego’s eighteen power play goals rank three behind Milwaukee for the most in the league (21). San Diego’s penalty kill is 17-for-27 at preventing goals (63%), third in the league. The Sockers are tied for the MASL lead with two short-handed goals. Last year, San Diego led the MASL in both power play efficiency (27-for-45, 60%) and penalty killing efficiency (16-for-22, 73%) during the 2021-22 season. Charlie Gonzalez leads the club with five power play goals.
Sockers midfielder and Tijuana native Brandon Escoto has at least one point in all fourteen matches he has played this season. A prolific and dangerous scorer, Brandon has (10-13=23) points in 14 matches. In his career, Escoto averages almost a goal-per-match, with 137 goals scored in 145 matches played. Escoto was one of the most balanced attackers in the MASL in 2021-22, finishing in the MASL’s top-10 in both goals and assists with (21-23=44) points, good for T-7th in the league. Rebounding from a two-match suspension in February, Escoto has four straight multi-point matches, with (2-7=9) points during the surge.
Leading Scorer? Leo
Brazilian midfielder Leonardo de Oliveira leads the Sockers in scoring with (10-19=29) points, having played all 18 matches so far this season. “Leo” ranks second in the MASL in assists with 19 (Nick Perera, TAC, 29). Last season, Leo led the MASL with 33 assists, earning the league’s first-ever “Pass Master” award. Leo’s total was six higher than second-place finisher Nick Perera. Combined with 13 goals on the season, de Oliveira’s 46 points scored ranked tied for fifth in the league. Leo added his 100th career MASL goal during the season, and has 115 goals and 264 points in his indoor career, an average of 1.88 points-per-match. His 149 career assists are the fifth-most in MASL history.
Dos Rojos Por Cualquier Otro Nombre
Defender Ismael “Big” Rojo has made the most of his opportunity to enter the Sockers lineup in the defensive backfield, erupting for five goals in the last three matches. Four of five goals have been struck from beyond the attacking line, and Ismael has added an assist for a (5-1=6) scoreline. Rojo earned his first six starts as a defensive runner in the midfield, but has flourished since returning to his natural position. Fellow defender and brother Juan Manuel “Little’ Rojo ranks T-8th on the club with (5-7=12) points.
Who’s In, Who’s Out
Defender Luis “Peewee” Ortega (lower body) and midfielder Hiram “Pollo” Ruiz (lower body) each missed the Sockers’ last match, and are questionable for selection on Friday.
His (8-7=15) points are the most in his Sockers career
Ranks fourth on the club with 15 goals and 25 points
Last year’s leading scorer hasn’t netted a goal since February 18