Sockers Sweep Tacoma In Dramatic 7-6 2OT Win

by Jonathan Greene

The San Diego Sockers continue to conjure up escape routines worthy of Houdini in his prime.

Winning the longest match in MASL history, coming from two goals down late in the fourth quarter, and outlasting a Tacoma Stars side playing for its life, the Sockers (23-1, 2-0) saw veteran forward Eduardo Velez score the golden goal at 6:25 of double overtime, emerging victorious 7-6 in front of 3,307 on Saturday night at Pechanga Arena San Diego.

30,000 will swear they were there in the retelling of the Sockers’ 23rd straight win.

“It’s unreal,” said Velez, as the 37-year-old Tijuana star completed an improbable hat trick to secure San Diego’s 23rd consecutive victory, “Today is my son Eduardo Jr’s birthday, and this was for him.”

Velez’s spot in the lineup opened only because of a pregame MASL announcement that Sockers team captain Kraig Chiles would serve a one-match suspension for a blue card foul in Friday’s 6-3 win over the Stars in Tacoma. The blow to the head of the Stars’ Vince McCluskey in the second quarter was determined on appeal to be worthy of further discipline. Chiles was out, and his carpool mate to the match Eddie Velez was in. 

Driving the car was midfielder Brian Farber.

“I told Eddie this was going to be his night, he’s going to score a hat trick, and he’s going to win the game. I can’t believe it, he did it.”

The golden goal was finished by Velez with a smart strike into the center of the upper V, sent from the middle of the penalty area high into the goal net. The work preceding was all Brandon Escoto, as the Sockers’ leading scorer capped a four-point night (three goals, assist) with a dazzling run up the right wall, stopping and starting and dancing his way through three defenders to the goal wall. The soft rollback settled perfectly for “El Vaquero” Velez’s winning touch.

“I’m always ready to play, and to do what I can to help the team, on or off the field,” said a breathless and tearful Velez on the floor after the match.

With the late afternoon announcement of Chiles’ suspension, along with Philip Lund of the Stars, who each were served one-game bans for their acts on Friday, tensions were already running high leading into Game 2. The Sockers came out with ferocity, scoring three goals in the opening 11 minutes for a 3-0 lead.

First, it was Velez, finishing the quality run of defender Cesar Cerda, who took on multiple attackers before laying off a ball to left wing for Eduardo’s first of the playoffs at 3:46. Velez restored a tradition of old by borrowing the sombrero of a fan and doing the sombrero dance at midfield.

Escoto spoke next, one night after being held off the goal sheet by Tacoma’s defense. Leonardo de Oliveira assisted on the first at 5:05, and the second, a free kick rocket at 10:29, gave San Diego their largest lead of the match.

The Stars (12-12, 0-2) roared back with goals from Adam West, Vince McCluskey, and Lamar Neagle to tie the score at 6:30 of the second quarter. The tie remained until halftime.

The third quarter saw Velez charge the net and accept a perfect over-the-top pass by Ray Contreras over his shoulder and down to the foot. In one-on-one against Stars keeper Danny Waltman, Velez scored with the right foot on a low roller inside the left post to regain a 4-3 lead, just seventeen seconds into the period.

Tacoma ran the show for much of the remainder of the quarter and into the fourth, gaining possession and chipping away. Perera’s beautiful goal into left netting at 14:10 of the third tied the match 4-4, and Dan Antoniuk’s tap-in of Pablo De Silva’s back-post pass 41 seconds into the fourth put the Stars ahead for the first time at 5-4.

When Perera smashed a top-of-arc free kick into the net for his second goal of the night at 12:03 of the fourth, a 6-4 lead and a potential 15-minute mini-game to decide the series loomed. The Sockers called timeout, brought on Hiram “Pollo” Ruiz as a sixth attacker, and reached back into the chest for some Sockers magic.

Escoto found a bouncing ball squiring through the crease and lifted in his hat trick goal at 12:41, making the score 6-5 Tacoma. Then, with the sixth attacker unit possessing and seeking the equalizer, Ruiz laid a pass across to Christian Segura, who took one touch before striking the ball low and inside the near post, past the grasp of Waltman and home for the game-tying goal with just 13.7 seconds left on the clock.

San Diego dominated possession in the first overtime and had chances to win, but it would go down to the second overtime for the exhausted crowd to scream one more time, and for two tired combatants to end the action.

The Sockers now advance to the Ron Newman Cup Western Conference Final, where they will face the winner of the Southwest Division Final (Monterrey leads 1-0 in the best-of-3 series). The match will be played at Pechanga Arena on Sunday, April 28 at 5:05 p.m.