by Craig Elsten/Sockers

In the standings, the match meant nothing for the Sockers, and everything for the Ontario Fury. On the floor, it was a different story altogether, as San Diego put out a huge defensive effort in a hard-earned 4-3 win on Sunday night at Pechanga Arena.

The Sockers (23-0-1, 66 points) closed out the MASL regular season on a 20-match winning streak while handing the Fury (9-13-2, 28 points) their eighth straight loss. San Diego will face #8 seed Milwaukee in the first round of the playoffs. Ontario, a popular preseason pick to contend for the Ron Newman Cup after pushing San Diego to the final seconds of the knockout game last year, wound up falling out of the bracket altogether, failing to qualify.

Boris Pardo was a huge part of the reason why. The San Diego goalkeeper (W, 19-0-1) stopped 11 of 14 shots, including all four Ontario chances on goal in the fourth quarter, when the Fury needed two goals to win in regulation and take all three points. Ontario inserted goalkeeper Chris Toth into the match to serve as a combo keeper/sixth attacker halfway into the final frame, putting San Diego against continuous 6-on-5 pressure. Pardo made a series of highlight saves, capped by a leaping parry with 11 seconds left in the frame, officially extinguishing any last hope for the Fury.

While Pardo and his defensive corps were locking down the back end, the Sockers found the offensive third to be less forgiving than usual. San Diego received a pair of goals from Leonardo de Oliveira, including the game-winner at 10:57 of the third quarter, a mid-crease finish of Kraig Chiles’ centering pass off a corner kick.

“Leo”’s work was not confined to the attack, as the MASL assists leader also paced the club with three blocked shots and regularly worked each side of the floor, handling possession, track-back defense, and facilitating the offense.

The Fury came out with the intensity needed for a team in a must-win situation. Onua Obasi beat his defender in the opening minute, bursting into the right corner before feeding a wall pass to an unmarked Justin Stinson in the middle for a quick goal at 1:03 and a 1-0 Ontario lead. Behind a solid effort in net from starter Claysson de Lima (8/12 saves) the Fury held San Diego down, shutting out target forward Tavoy Morgan on the heels of his five-goal performance Thursday against Florida.

The Sockers capitalized on a Fury mental error, as Ontario was dinged for six men on the field with 6:00 remaining in the first quarter. San Diego’s league-leading power play came to work, as Chiles, back after missing four games with a leg ailment, crossed a pass that missed Morgan’s attempt, but found its way to Charlie Gonzalez in the left corner. Charlie’s shot was wicked and precise, picking out the top-right corner for his 23rd goal of the year and a 1-1 tie.

In the second quarter, Ontario was hit up for back-to-back blue cards when first Robert Palmer, then Isreal Sesay were hit with tripping penalties. While the Fury defused both power plays, San Diego scored just as their second man-advantage expired, with Leo blasting a volley off the inside of the right post and in, with such pace that the ball ricocheted into the left-side netting of the goal. The Sockers led 2-1 at 9:25, and carried the lead into the half.

A wild and entertaining third quarter saw both teams mark twice. Onua Obasi and Thiago Goncalves each struck powerful shots which took slight deflections on their way past Pardo for a pair of attractive goals, at 6:13 and 10:43 respectively.

In between, midfielder Dallin Cutler, who had played an overtime match for SDSockers2 earlier in the afternoon, made a play you’d expect Leo to make. He brought down a pinball steal and no-look sole-rolled a pass backward to Juan Manuel Rojo, who used a lovely left-footed finish over the diving de Lima to put the Sockers ahead 3-2 momentarily at 9:24 of the third.

The quarter ended with Leo’s finish on the set-piece, and then San Diego hunkered down on the defensive end. For the fourth time this season in six matches, the Sockers shut out high-scoring forward Franck Tayou, including a Pardo point-blank save in the fourth quarter. Luis “Peewee” Ortega had two blocked shots and saved a goal off the line early in the match, but spent much of his time digging the ball out of complicated circumstances.

Pardo finished the regular season leading the MASL in wins (19) and goals-against average (4.20). His .731 save percentage leads all keepers with 18+ starts, but Eduardo “Pollo” Cortes, who appeared in 11 matches (including one for San Diego) qualified for the MASL threshold with his final match on Sunday, and led the league with a .784 save percentage in 554 fewer minutes played.

San Diego sat out midfielder Brandon Escoto as a precautionary measure after Escoto suffered a series of hard hits in the last several matches. Defender Guerrero Pino also missed the match with a lower-body injury, while Felipe Gonzalez, Eduardo Velez, Andy Reyes, Gerardo Jurado, and Brian Farber remained unavailable due to injury.

The Sockers now prepare for a trip to Milwaukee for Game 1 of the Ron Newman Cup quarterfinals, at a date to be announced Monday by the MASL. The return leg will be played on Sunday, April 10, with Game 2 set for a 5:05 kickoff at Pechanga Arena. If the series is 2-0 after the second match, the winner will advance to the semifinals. If the series is tied 1-1, a third knockout game called “extra time” will be played, a fifteen-minute match to decide the series.

Tickets are available for the Sunday quarterfinal match at, via the AXS ticketing app, or by calling (866) 799-GOAL