Sockers Rally To Edge Stars 6-5

by Pete Richmire

KENT, WA—Brandon Escoto scored the match-winning goal with 2:33 remaining as the San Diego Sockers came from behind to beat the Tacoma Stars 6-5 on Saturday night at accesso ShoWare Center. Gabriel Costa (goal, two assists) scored the equalizing goal at 7:27 and then set up Escoto’s right-footed counterattack match-winner.
Xavier Snaer-Williams, making his first start in net this season as starter Boris Pardo was held in San Diego to prepare for Sunday’s match against defending MASL champion Chihuahua, came up huge in the fourth quarter to keep the Sockers perfect on the season. He stopped five-of-six shots on frame in the quarter, including a point-blank try for the lead by defending league MVP Nick Perera (hat trick, assist) with three minutes remaining. In addition, “X-Man” (9/14 saves) contributed an assist on Costa’s match-tying goal with a distribution into the corner.
The Sockers (6-0, 18 points) moved back on top of the MASL Pacific Division while running their regular-season winning streak to 16. San Diego also won their twelfth straight over Tacoma, improving to 4-0 against the Stars this season.
A combination of injury, illness, travel and tactics led head coach Phil Salvagio to feature a heavily rotated lineup on Saturday night, with captains Kraig Chiles, Cesar Cerda and Boris Pardo all missing the match, as well as defender Mitchell Cardenas and midfielder Leonardo de Oliveira. Snaer-Williams made his first start of the season, while rookie Juan Salazar made his MASL regular season debut. The Stars, who also have a match Sunday afternoon in Ontario, sat out goalkeeper Chris Toth, forwards Micheal Ramos and Alessandro Canale, and top midfielder Jamael Cox. Backup keeper Luis Birrueta impressed with 15 saves on 21 shots.
A relatively quiet first quarter saw Tacoma strike first, as a midfield turnover gave Stars midfielder Eddie Na a two-on-one attacking. He slid a pass through the defense to Raphael Cox for an easy sitter and a 1-0 lead at 2:05. With the Sockers struggling to find early connections and Tacoma possessing the ball, the quarter ended at 1-0.
Things accelerated quickly in a wild second quarter which saw San Diego outscore Tacoma 4-2. Brandon Escoto got things going for San Diego with a smoothly threaded goal down the middle, fed in a close-quarters give-and-go from Tavoy Morgan for an equalizer at 4:15. Just over a minute later, the Stars were shown a blue card for a trip denying an obvious scoring chance, leading to a shootout. Charlie Gonzalez calmly converted the shootout at 5:56 for a 2-1 lead.
It was San Diego’s turn to start seeing the blue, as Snaer-Williams was called for a tackle inside his penalty area and a penalty kick. “X” watched from the penalty box as Lenny Islas made his MASL debut in net in an unfortunate fashion, having to face Nick Perera on a penalty kick. Perera made no mistake at 6:33 for the equalizer, bringing Snaer-Williams back out of the box.
The spotlight would next find Salazar, who impressed in a Thursday futsal exhibition against
Empire with a hat trick. The Colombian was in position to redirect a Gabriel Costa shot off Stars keeper Luis Birrueta, heading the ball into the net at 7:10 for his first MASL goal and a 3-2 Sockers lead.
Juan Gonzalez stole a Stars pass and set up Tavoy Morgan on a 2-on-1 for his ninth goal of the season and a 4-2 lead at 9:46. The goal was clawed back by Tacoma on another penalty kick conversion, as Sockers defender Guerrero Pino was shown a blue for a clear handball in the penalty area, extending his arm to deflect away a likely goal. Perera beat Snaer-Williams from the dot this time at 11:34 for his second of the night, and the 4-3 score held into halftime.
In a familiar pattern, Tacoma won the third quarter 1-0, good enough to level the match. Another blue card helped lead the Stars to the net, this time on a Gabriel Costa boarding call. Wille Spurr’s shot at the net was deflected by Gilbert de la Luz within the crease for a clean goal and a 4-4 tie at 9:16. The story of the quarter was Stars keeper Luis Birrueta, who stopped 8-of-8 shots on frame, as the Sockers fruitlessly outshot the Stars 11-2.
Perera showed his MVP form with a series of beautifully executed one-on-one moves to generate a lead for Tacoma, beating his defender to the right foot after a series of fakes and moves, then beating Snaer-Williams inside far post for a 5-4 Tacoma lead at 6:24.
Before the Stars fans could dream too long about snapping the club’s streak of futility against San Diego, Snaer-Williams sent a distribution into the left corner of the Stars zone, where Costa let the ball come off the glass, positioning himself to run on it in space. He poked a shot past Birrueta at 7:27 to draw the match level 5-5.
Tyler John thought he had a match-winner on his right foot with 3:03 remaining, only to see his volley go bar-down-and-out, bouncing a few inches in front of the net. The ball caromed to Perera, who was able to swing his full right leg into a point-blank shot, only to see it parried by Snaer-Williams at the goal line, who fell on the ball to preserve the tie.
Seconds later, Luis “Peewee” Ortega stole a ball in the Stars zone and sent it forward quickly to Costa for a two-on-one with Escoto. Costa made the cross-pass to the back post through traffic, and the left-footed Escoto was able to tuck the ball home right-footed just inside the post for the eventual match-winner. The Stars pulled their keeper with under two minutes left, but San Diego was able to withstand the pressure and pull out the win.  
The Sockers now hope for good travel luck out of frozen Tacoma, where severe winter weather has been shutting down in-and-outbound flights. The club must return on Sunday morning to San Diego in time for a 5:05pm kickoff against Chihuahua, which has been lying in wait for them. Tickets for the match at Pechanga Arena are available at, by calling (866) 799-GOAL, or visiting the arena box office on matchday.