by San Diego Sockers

The Chihuahua Savage are returning to the Ron Newman Cup Finals after outlasting the San Diego Sockers on Sunday night at Pechanga Arena. The Sockers needed golden goal triple overtime to win Match Two 5-4, the longest match in MASL playoff history. Fully spent by the effort, San Diego bowed to Chihuahua in the 15-minute Knockout Game 2-1, taking the series 2-1 and advancing to the championship round.

The Sockers (18-6, 3-3 playoffs) lost for the second straight season to the Savage on San Diego’s home floor in the Knockout Game. This loss, in front of a season-high crowd of 3,175, also marked the end of an era, as the club leaves historic Pechanga Arena for good, moving to the brand-new Frontwave Arena in Oceanside in the winter. The Sockers won twelve championships in what was once called the San Diego International Sports Arena, a place they called home from 1980 to 1996, then from 2000-04, and lastly from 2012-24.

Needing both a Match Two victory and Knockout Game win to claim the series, San Diego came out determined to get their first win all season against Chihuahua, after the Savage had dominated the regular season series 3-0, and won Match One handily 13-7 on Thursday night. Playing without star forward Tavoy Morgan (knee), the Sockers turned to their captain Kraig Chiles, who at age 39 delivered a vintage first-half performance in Match Two, netting a hat trick while pushing San Diego to a 4-1 halftime lead.

Chihuahua (16-7-1, 4-2 playoffs) emerged from the halftime locker room a changed side, locking down on defense and throttling the San Diego attack. Miguel Angel Diaz netted at 2:16 of the third quarter to set the tone, and Savage stars Hugo Puentes and Roberto Escalante scored at 4:32 and 7:15 of the fourth quarter to tie the match 4-4.

The Sockers had a golden chance to win in regulation when a replay challenge revealed that Chihuahua keeper Diego Reynoso had handled a ball just outside his crease, resulting in a blue card penalty and a shootout attempt. Chiles, who had converted a shootout in the second quarter, was given the chance for a fourth goal, but missed just wide on his chance. San Diego did not convert the power play and the match proceeded to golden goal overtime.

In overtime, Chihuahua used a pressing defensive posture to completely eliminate what remained of the veteran Sockers’ physical reserves. Pushed beyond the brink of exhaustion, San Diego misfired on multiple opportunities, but still managed to hold the line defensively, pushing through one, then another ten-minute golden goal overtime period. In the third OT, the Sockers won a free kick along the right wall of the offensive zone and took a timeout. As defender Guerrero Pino whipped the crowd into a frenzy, San Diego finally found a goal. Charlie Gonzalez’s pass back to Gabriel Costa was whipped into the left side of the net for a golden goal, earning the Knockout Game. The Sockers were shut out for 54:15 consecutive minutes before finally finding the goal they needed to keep their season alive. The match lasted 80 minutes and 46 seconds, beating the previous record of 80:18 between Syracuse and Baltimore on March 11, 2016.

While the Sockers attempted to play Morgan in the Knockout Game—to no effect as the forward struggled badly with a knee injury—Chihuahua changed uniforms and made four substitutions to their lineup. The moves by head coach Genoni Martinez paid immediate dividends, possibly a championship-winning decision. Fresh-legged players Luis Medrano and José Gilberto Lopez had the pace to run through the drained San Diego defense, each pummeling powerful volleys past Sockers veteran keeper Boris Pardo. The Sockers went to a six-attackers formation with just under five minutes to play but were turned away again and again, as the fresher Savage were able to reclaim possession multiple times.

A final-gasp goal by Brandon Escoto at 14:14 of the Knockout Game gave San Diego their last flicker of life, but the Savage were able to defend out the final 46 seconds, blocking a last centering bid by Drew Ruggles with under 20 seconds to play. As Chihuahua exulted in front of a section of visiting fans, the Sockers faithful departed Pechanga Arena for the final time in franchise history.

The Savage advance to play the winner of Milwaukee-Kansas City in the Ron Newman Cup Finals. The Sockers will resume their franchise’s hunt for a seventeenth indoor soccer championship 42 miles to the north in Oceanside in the new Frontwave Arena in the winter of 2024.