The San Diego Sockers are tough to stop right now, even when their offense is a bit off-target.
Tavoy Morgan scored twice and Juan Manuel Rojo contributed a goal and two assists, as the Sockers (7-0, 20 points) held off the Harrisburg Heat 5-3 on Saturday night at the Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg. The same two clubs will square off Sunday afternoon in a 2:05pm PST contest.
The Sockers won their seventh straight to start the 2022-23 campaign, moving at least temporarily back into first place in the MASL Western Conference. The club extended its all-competitions win streak to eleven straight, their road winning streak moved to sixteen in a row, and San Diego has won 27 consecutive regular season matches. In their last 48 contests, the club is 44-0-4.
The Sockers out-shot their opponent 32-10 but were unable to shake the Heat (1-7, 3 points), who were bolstered by goalkeeper Chase Vosvick’s 19/23 saves performance in net. Boris Pardo (W, 7-0) was rarely challenged but came up with two big fourth-quarter saves, part of a 7/10 performance.
As has been their style this season, the Sockers started off the opening quarter by organizing their defensive shape and ensuring no opponent attack, while looking for their chances to play through the target forward. While San Diego handled possession and out-shot the Heat 10-2, their best chance came on a Chiles shot off the crossbar with three minutes remaining.
The Sockers played without stalwart midfielders Brandon Escoto (illness) and Hiram “Pollo” Ruiz (lower body), and switched up the lineup, with Luis “Peewee” Ortega moving from defender into the midfield. Ismael Rojo made his season debut in the defensive line for San Diego, and used his size and unusual speed to track back on a counter-attack opportunity with two minutes remaining to deny a good chance on net. The match was scoreless after fifteen minutes.
The first goal of the match came against the run of play on a counter-attack through Malcolm Harris, whose driving shot from the right wing was just wide of the post. As the Sockers tried to emerge from their zone, Matt Braem stepped in to steal the ball, slide a pass to Harris now on the left wing, and then celebrate as Harris smashed a precise shot into the upper-right netting for a 1-0 Heat lead at 4:11 of the second quarter.
San Diego answered when Tavoy Morgan showed why he is an elite target forward, positioning his body to ward off the defender and accept a long forward pass from Boris Pardo right at the
attacking line. He immediately spun and laid the ball off to Juan Manuel Rojo from the wing, getting a return pass for a shot that was blocked back to his head for a tap-in equalizing goal at 9:19, his eighth of the year and seventh on the road.
The Sockers almost took the lead when Peewee surprised a deliberative Vosvick along the left boards and poked away a steal from along the wall, racing for the loose ball. His quick shot hit left post before the defense could get back to force a corner. Another point-blank chance for Christian Gutierrez was sent high at the goal mouth in the final seconds, and the match was tied 1-1 at the half.
The third quarter, once again, would be a different story. The Sockers put on the pressure from the opening kick and Harrisburg rarely saw the ball. After a flurry of shots went wide, Juan Manuel Rojo collected the ball outside the defensive zone, took one touch to midfield and unleashed a shot that deflected off Braem and then past Vosvick from distance for a 2-1 San Diego lead at 2:37.
Braem and Felipe Gonzalez got tangled up in a rough midfield tackle nine minutes into the third quarter, with Braem being shown both a blue card and a yellow for a secondary kick on Felipe. Felipe received a yellow for a post-whistle retaliation, and the Sockers received a power play. It was a quick one, as Leo’s shot from the wing found its way home when Tavoy allowed the ball to pass between his legs, screening the goalkeeper for a 3-1 lead at 9:55.
The Heat answered back on a quick strike at 11:38, as Elton de Oliveira picked up a yellow line steal on an elite tackle and hustled forward, threading a pass ahead to Alejandro Chavez for a quick shot into the back of the net from the edge of the crease, and a score-line narrowed to 3-2. The Sockers again out-shot the Heat by a massive 9-1 count but only led by one heading into the final quarter.
San Diego’s revamped lineup paid dividends to push the lead out early in the fourth quarter. A loose ball was tackled and won by Peewee in the midfield, and Juan Manuel Rojo pushed ahead on a speed burst up the left wing. His perfect pass square across the crease found a charging Morgan for a slam dunk goal at 8:20, pushing the lead to 4-2.
Harrisburg went to a sixth attacker with five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter and clawed a goal back, as Elton de Oliveira’s rolling shot from right-wing took a deflection past Pardo at 12:54. The Heat were called moments later for a blue card when Christian Gutierrez was crashing on a loose ball in on net. San Diego converted the night’s final goal courtesy of Gutierrez, connecting on the end of a long clearance by Cesar Cerda up the field for an easy empty netter at 14:13.
The Sockers and Heat now look for a quick recovery before meeting on the same field at 2:05pm Pacific Time. The match can be watched on twitch.tv/masl_soccer2. The Sockers return home next Sunday, January 29 to face the Chihuahua Savage in a battle between the MASL’s top two clubs. Tickets are available at sdsockers.com/tickets or by calling (866) 799-GOAL.