THE POSTSEASON STRETCH
The winners of the quarterfinals of the Ron Newman Cup playoffs held true to form as the four higher seeds earned spots in the Major Arena Soccer League semifinals.
All three division champions - San Diego Sockers, Florida Tropics and Kansas City Comets - moved on as did the leading wildcard team with the best record – the Chihuahua Savage.
That has set up two mouth-watering semifinal confrontations.
In a battle of Western Division powers, the defending champion Sockers will take on the Chihuahua Savage, while the Florida Tropics will face the Kansas City Comets.
Here is a quick overview of the two series (regular season records are in parentheses):
No. 1 San Diego Sockers (23-0-1) vs. No. 4 Chihuahua Savage (15-7-2)
- Game 1 - Monday, April 18, Corner Sport Arena, Chihuahua, Mexico, 9:35 ET
- Game 2 - Sunday, April 24, Pechanga Arena San Diego, 8:05 p.m. ET
On paper, this is one doozy of match-up as it pits the undefeated Sockers against the second hottest team in the league.
These sides have met three times this year, with San Diego emerging with three wins. The Sockers recorded one-goal overtime victories in the first two meetings in Chihuahua on Jan. 21 and Jan. 22. San Diego also won at home on March 6.
In the first contest, the Sockers equalized with 52 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter on a Tavoy Morgan goal and won it on Hiram Ruiz's fourth tally of the match only 32 seconds into overtime for a 6-5 win. Jose Rios also finished with four goals for the Mexican side, adding an assist.
In a wild 11-10 result a day later, San Diego escaped with another overtime triumph. This time Chihuahua's Roberto Escalante knotted things up with two seconds remaining in regulation, only 13 seconds after Brandon Escoto had given the visitors the lead. Boris Pardo had boosted the visitors an 8-5 lead with a rare goalkeeper goal in the middle of the third quarter before Chihuahua rallied with four successive scores to set up the wild finish. Just 18 seconds into OT, Tavoy Morgan settled matters with his third goal of the game.
The third confrontation in San Diego didn't need overtime as the Sockers registered a 6-2 win. Pardo wasn't involved in the scoring this time but was voted the No. 1 star of the match with some stellar goalkeeping. The Sockers struck thrice in the final quarter to pull away from a 3-2 lead behind Charlie Gonzalez (two goals in the period) and Leonardo De Oliveira (one). Kraig Chiles (two goals) had given the hosts a 3-2 edge in the third period.
In the quarterfinals, the Sockers dispatched the Milwaukee Wave in two games, 9-2 on the road and 9-3 at home on April 7 and 10, respectively. Chiles and Tavoy led the way with two goals apiece in the first contest as Pardo notched No. 1 star honors again. In the second encounter at home, San Diego scored six of the final seven goals to turn a 3-2 lead into the final score. Seven players wrote their name on the scoresheet, including Rojo and Chiles, who collected two goals apiece, while Cesar Cerda, Christian Gutierrez, Felipe Gonzalez, Charlie Gonzalez and De Oliveira (four assists) had one each.
Chihuahua needed to work much harder in its quarterfinal series. After dropping a 5-4 decision to the Baltimore Blast in Game 1 on April 8, the Savage won twice at home three days later. The hosts tied the series with a 4-3 win, holding off Baltimore, which scored a pair of sixth-attacker goals in the fourth quarter. After spotting the Blast a 1-0 lead, Roberto Escalante, Bryan Macias and Carlos Hernandez (two goals) rattled off four consecutive tallies to take a 4-1 advantage.
After trading goals in the Extra Time, the hosts found the net four consecutive times, three by Enrique Canez within a 74-second span against a sixth attacker, en route to a 5-1 victory.
A quick reminder of the regular season for both sides:
San Diego head coach Phil Salvagio has many weapons at his disposal. Morgan enjoyed a career year, connecting for 39 goals, No. 2 in the league. He added 10 assists for 49 points (No. 3 in the league). Morgan has been aided by Brandon Escoto (23 g, 21 a), De Oliveira (13 g, league-best 33 a), Charlie Gonzalez (23), who finished with an MASL-high five game-winning goals, Chiles (22 g, 19 a) and Gutierrez (19 g). Defender Juan Manuel Rojo (12 g, 13 a) demonstrated consistency on both sides of the ball, leading a squad that conceded the fewest goals in the league (98).
In one of the most striking transformations this season, Chihuahua went from one extreme to another. The Savage lost its first seven games but caught fire, by finishing the season with a remarkable 15-2 streak under new head coach Luis Borrego. That streak included two overtime victories.
Chihuahua scored a league-high 185 goals. Midfielder Jorge Rios led the team with 33 goals as no other player cracked the 20-goal mark. The Savage deployed a share the wealth strategy as seven players finished in double figures. Hugo Puentes and Enrique Canez each collected 19 goals while Bryan Macias and David Gonzalez contributed 15 apiece.
The Sockers and Savage are two finely tuned sides, but San Diego is considered the favorites given its seemingly endless stockpile of talent. If Chihuahua wants to reach the final, it will need to find a way to stop its foes’ fourth-period surges. So far, no team has been able to accomplish that.
No. 2 Florida Tropics (18-3-2) vs. No. 3 Kansas City Comets (13-9-1)
- Game 1 - Saturday, April 16, Cable Dahmer Arena, Independence, Mo. 6 p.m. ET
- Game 2 - Saturday, April 23, RP Funding Center, Lakeland, Fla., 6 p.m. ET
Wish we could tell you how they fared during the 2021-22 regular season, but the Tropics and Comets did not play each other.
The Comets went against the grain in the quarterfinals, winning at the Dallas Sidekicks, 7-3, on April 9, but losing at home, 7-5, on April 12 before it prevailed in the Extra Time.
In the first match in Allen, Texas, the Comets overcame a one-goal deficit to score four consecutive times to take control of the match. Ignacio Flores had the first and final words during that surge as Lesia Thetsane and John Sosa added goals. Eduardo "Benji" Monreal, James Togbah and Thetsane closed out the scoring as Nicolau Neto recorded the win in net.
At home three days later, the Sidekicks kept their hopes alive with that 7-5 result. Jamie Lovegrove (two goals, two assists) paced the visitors while David Ortiz scored twice against KC's sixth attacker while Dallas pulled away in the fourth quarter. Monreal scored that unreal goal for the Comets in the second quarter, which has made the rounds of social media.
In the Extra Time game, Rian Marques, Thetsane and Ray Lee scored for Kansas City, offsetting Luiz Moralez's tally en route to a 3-1 win.
The Tropics eliminated the St. Louis Ambush in two games over a three-day period.
In the 8-4 away victory on April 8, Florida, clinging to a 3-2 lead, pulled away with four straight goals in the third and fourth periods. Zach Reget scored three of his game-high four goals. Ricardo De Queiroz Diegues added two goals and Ricardo Carvalho and Victor Parreiras had one apiece.
The Tropics, coached by Clay Roberts, rode another second-half surge as they overcame an early two-goal deficit as it registered a 6-4 home win on April 10. On the short end of a 3-2 score, Taylor Walter Bond, Ricardo Carvalho and Reget found the net during a span of 2:30 in the third quarter to grab a 6-3 advantage.
A quick reminder of the regular season for both sides:
Florida is led by the triumvirate of midfielder Victor Parreiras (29 g, 23 a) and forwards Zach Reget (27 g, 16 a) and Ricardo Carvalho (24 g, 19 a). Four other players were in double figures in goals. The backline is paced by perennial all-star and captain Drew Ruggles (12 a, 14 a).
Player-head coach Leo Gibson, 38, was the corner stone of the Kansas City attack (26 g, 17 a). Midfielder Lucas Sousa (22 g), the 2021 MASL rookie of the year, forward Rian Marques (21 g) and defender John Sosa (14 g, 23 a) also made key contributions.
The Tropics' overwhelming attack should give the Comets more than they have bargained for and are the favorites to advance to the championship series. Kansas City must find a way to stop Florida's multi-faceted attack. That is easier said than done.
Michael Lewis, the editor of FrontRowSoccer.com, can be followed on Twitter at @SoccerWriter. He can be reached via email at Michael@FrontRowSoccer.com. His book Alive and Kicking: The incredible, but true story of the Rochester Lancers, recently was published. It can be purchased at https://tinyurl.com/2p8rzhpy.