SOCKERS SLIP PAST STARS 4-2
LAKELAND, FL — The Sockers have found their defense, and it may be the rock upon which their season is built.
Boris Pardo made nine saves and San Diego shut down some of the top-scoring stars in the MASL, holding their ground defensively against the Tacoma Stars for a 4-2 victory on Sunday morning at the RP Funding Center in Lakeland, Florida. The Sockers (3-2) got goals from Gerardo Jurado, Mitchell Cardenas, Kraig Chiles, and Christian Gutierrez, with Leonardo de Oliveira contributing a pair of assists.
“It was important to keep the momentum going,” said Pardo of the Sunday result, “we got a big win over Florida on Friday, and the guys pulled through (today). It was a tremendous defensive effort from top to bottom, and we knew if we kept it a low score, we liked our chances.”
San Diego, suddenly at the halfway point of a twice-truncated 2021 COVID season in the Major Arena Soccer League, has yet to find its offense, ranking last in the league at 3.40 goals per game. However, the Sockers’ defense has picked up the slack, and then some. The club pitched a four-quarter shutout between the second half of Friday’s OT win over Florida and the first half of Sunday’s match against the Stars. Both of Tacoma’s goals came on caroms in front of the net, and San Diego shut out three Stars power plays. All-Star attackers Nick Perera, Micheal Ramos, and Vini Dantas were held to a lone Dantas assist in terms of contribution.
“I think we did what we know how to do,” said Cardenas of the group defensive effort, “As a team, as a group, and individually within our battles. I wouldn’t say impressed; I think it’s more being satisfied with doing what we know how to do.”
The combination of playing three matches in four days on the unforgiving turf of the RP Funding Center in Lakeland, and drawing a West Coast 9am start time for the Sunday matinee finale, led to a predictably quiet start to affairs. Neither team scored in a first quarter that saw three total shots.
The Sockers opened the scoring in the 18th minute, as Boris Pardo’s long lead pass into the attacking left corner found midfielder Brandon Escoto, whose shot-pass off the boards danced off the fingertips of Tacoma keeper Chris Toth, hovering near the goal line. Gerardo Jurado was “Jerry on the spot”, tapping home his second goal in as many games for a 1-0 lead at 2:44 of the second quarter.
With the Stars defense focusing rightly on the relentless offensive presence of Sockers forward Leonardo de Oliveira, teammates were able to take advantage. Leo laid a pass off from double-team coverage to Mitchell Cardenas, who laced a long left-wing shot through traffic and past Toth at 5:34, doubling the advantage to 2-0 San Diego.
The Sockers’ only power play of the match came later in the second quarter, as Tacoma’s Chris Keitz was blue carded for unsportsmanlike conduct. For the first time in five matches, San Diego’s all-time leading scorer Kraig Chiles put his name on the scoresheet, working the middle of the power play effectively before one-touching home an entry pass from Leo at 11:43 for a 3-0 lead.
The San Diego shutout effort continued until halftime and six minutes deep into the third quarter, before Vini Dantas’ shot-pass to the back post found its way to the sliding cleat of Philip Lund through traffic, trimming the lead to 3-1. An unfortunate pinball carom off the toe off a San Diego defender with four seconds left in the quarter made it 3-2.
From there, it was up to the defense to bring the win home. The Sockers killed a pair of Tacoma power plays and were able to trade off against the Stars’ forward tandem of Dantas and Perera with defenders Guerrero Pino, Cesar Cerda and Mitchell Cardenas, a heavy assignment that Cardenas welcomed.
“You enjoy that, playing against these top-caliber players and challenging yourself night in and night out,” said the free-agent acquisition from Mesquite, “It’s kind of like a measuring stick. Where are we, and individually, where are you compared to these guys? I look forward to more of them coming up.”
Christian Gutierrez was part of the defensive group asked to face six Tacoma attackers over the final 3:30 of the fourth quarter, and powered his first goal of the season past the sixth attacker Alex Caceres with 2:15 left in the match to secure the victory.
The total team effort defensively was what impressed Pardo the most, who noted the continued integration of newcomers like Cardenas, Marcio Leite, and Gordy Gurson, who cleared a potential equalizer off the line five minutes into the nerve-wracking fourth quarter.“You have the guys who have been with us—Pino, Cerda—who are always going to be clutch for us, but Mitchell did a tremendous job handling (Dantas and Perera). He made really smart decisions on the ball, and has a presence back there. All the new guys were clicking.”
The Sockers (3-2) leave the “Sunshine State Showdown”—a round-robin featuring four of the league’s top teams playing three times in four days—with a record of 2-1 and momentum to build upon. For the first time, the team will have action on consecutive weekends, as San Diego travels to Missouri next weekend for Friday and Sunday contests against the St. Louis Ambush. The 5pm Friday start will be available to watch on Major Arena Soccer League pay-per-view on Facebook, at facebook.com/MASLsoccer/events.