SOCKERS OPEN UP 9-POINT LEAD IN WEST WITH WIN OVER UTICA
San Diego, CA - The sport of indoor soccer is grueling by nature, cruel on the body, and almost impossible to play during an impacted schedule. Five matches in ten days, including three road matches, two in Mexico, three in overtime, and three in the final five days?
In San Diego, it sounds like a winning formula.
Christian Gutierrez netted his first Sockers hat trick, Juan-Manuel Rojo had a goal and two assists, and Xavier Snaer-Williams won his second straight start in net, as the San Diego Sockers ran their winning streak to six, handling Utica City FC by a final score of 8-3. San Diego (9-0-1) wrapped up a stretch of five matches in ten days by posting a perfect 5-0 record.
Gutierrez, a former defensive runner who has blossomed into a two-way All-Star, scored his 9th and 10th goals in the first half, and saw his 11th go into an empty net with 1:45 remaining off the leg of Utica’s Stefan St. Louis.
“It was the fifth game in ten days and we knew it would be tiring but the team reacted well,” said Gutierrez, “We went a little bit on the defensive, but little by little the goals started going in, and I think the team looked good.”
An overtime shootout in Ontario on Wednesday had fatigued the Sockers, and Friday’s win over Tacoma cost the club their captain, as Kraig Chiles sat out Sunday with back discomfort.
“Four games in a week is enough for my back, I’ll be good,” Chiles said on Twitter post-match.
The heavy workload translated into early sharpness for the second time this weekend, as the Sockers jumped on Utica for a 5-0 first-half lead. Rojo collected assists on the first two goals, setting up Sean Callahan for a back-post tap-in 2:07 into the contest. It was Callahan’s first goal with the Sockers after starring on the M2 side Sockers2.
Less than a minute later, Rojo’s diagonal cross-pass through the crease was perfectly stepped over by Felipe Gonzalez, the “dummy” freezing Utica keeper Andrew Coughlin just long enough for Gutierrez to have an open slot for his first goal of the night and a 2-0 lead at 3:01.
Gutierrez knocked in a scramble goal on the power play in the second quarter, and Rojo got on the end of the first of three Leonardo de Oliveira assists, putting the Sockers up 5-0 at the 9:54 mark of the frame.
Utica City (2-8) dropped their sixth straight, but showed promise over a 20-minute stretch in which they clawed back into the match. 42-year-old Hewerton Moreira, who was the head coach of the St. Louis Ambush the prior two seasons, collected three straight assists in his second game back as an active player, with Quenton Swift, Joey Tavernese, and Pablo de Silva netting the goals. 5-0 had become 5-3, and the Sockers’ prospect of running the gauntlet was dimming.
The match turned back in San Diego’s direction when Coughlin (6/12 saves) was called for a handball outside his zone, leading to a shootout. While Juan Carlos “Charlie” Gonzalez’s shootout attempt was saved, the ensuing power play saw Leo set up Tavoy Morgan for his 15th goal of the season, and a 6-3 lead. Morgan extended his goals streak to eight straight matches.
Meanwhile, 22-year-old rookie Xavier Snaer-Williams was tested less often than on Friday, but nonetheless stopped seven of ten shots, improving to 2-0. He also collected his first MASL point, coming seconds after his best save. Facing six attackers with under five minutes to go, Snaer-Williams made a scrambling, diving two-handed stop, reversing direction to grab Jake Schindler’s point-blank shot. He got up, threw out to Luis “Peewee” Ortega, and celebrated as Peewee hit the empty net from midfield, creating Snaer-Williams’ first career assist.
Gutierrez finished his hat trick with 1:45 remaining on a deflection into the empty goal. Cesar Cerda had a goal and assist on the night. The Sockers went 2-for-3 on the power play, conceding their final chance in the game’s last minute.
In the end, despite the miles of travel, three overtime matches, and five contests in ten days, the Sockers found their way to the promised land, a 9-0-1 record, and a nine-point lead in the MASL West standings. Gutierrez had a sigh of relief when asked about finishing the grueling run so well.
“Yes, I’m a little tired from having to play so many games and flying (from Chihuahua), but thank God we won all five, it doesn’t matter how—in overtime, shootout, winning is winning, and hope to keep alive the winning streak.”
The next opportunity comes in a week, as the Sockers again host the Tacoma Stars on Sunday, February 6 for a 5:05pm kickoff at Pechanga Arena. Tickets are available at sdsockers.com/tickets