by Craig Elsten

SAN DIEGO, CA—The San Diego Sockers are back-to-back champions of the Major Arena Soccer League. With a 4-3 victory over the Florida Tropics on Sunday Night in front of a crowd of 3,105 at Pechanga Arena, the Sockers secured their second straight Ron Newman Cup championship and the sixteenth title in franchise history.

“It’s a great feeling,” said team captain Kraig Chiles, who scored the game-winning goal, appropriately at 6:19 of the third quarter. The San Diego native had a team-leading eight goals in the playoffs earning Finals MVP honors, including the curving strike that put the Sockers ahead for good at 4-3.

“It was a hard battle against a quality opponent in Florida, but we stuck together, finally got a chance to fall, and we hung on for the win.”

The Sockers’ championship hopes were almost thwarted by the stellar play of goalkeeper Rainer Hauss, who made 14 of his 17 saves in the first half, repeatedly denying San Diego a chance to build a sizable lead. The Tropics rallied from 2-0 and 3-2 down to forge ties, only to succumb at the end despite a valiant effort.

“I’m so proud of every player on this team,” said owner and head coach Phil Salvagio, who won his sixth championship, “We battled all year long with a target on our backs, and in the end, we have back-to-back Ron Newman Cups.”

Brandon Escoto and Tavoy Morgan netted first-quarter goals in the opening 3:30 of game action, putting the Sockers ahead 2-0. Following a failed replay challenge by the Sockers, alleging that a third goal had crawled over the line, the Tropics answered back on Victor Parreiras’s tally from mid-crease on a Ricardo Diegues feed. The Sockers led 2-1 after fifteen minutes of play.

The second quarter began with a quick Tropics goal, as Breno Oliveira kicked in a goal 47 seconds into the action, knotting the score at 2-2. Back came the Sockers behind Escoto, who took a wall restart pass from Chiles, took one touch to the middle of the box, and fired home his second goal of the night and fifth of the playoffs at 3:44 for a 3-2 lead.

The rest of the quarter saw Hauss make eight saves, several of the spectacular variety, to keep his club in the game. The Sockers led 3-2 at the half. Ricardinho Sobreira converted an open rebound at 2:53 of the third quarter to draw the score even once again.

The stage was set for Kraig Chiles’ heroics. Accepting a zone entry pass from Guerrero Pino (two assists), Chiles took two creeping touches forward before lacing a perfect slider inside the right post and into the side netting for a 4-3 lead.

The Tropics pressed for the tie throughout the fourth quarter, but it was San Diego goalkeeper Boris Pardo’s time to shine. The MASL Goalkeeper of the Year saved his best work for late, making two clutch saves in the final minute, including a punch-out with 5.1 seconds left to secure the win.

“We knew we were just going to have to survive a flurry of shots to keep them at three,” said Pardo, “In the end it was just defend-defend-defend to hold the lead, and we were able to do that.”

The Sockers celebrated into the night on Sunday, having secured back-to-back championships for the first time in their MASL tenure. The win was the 16th championship in franchise history, the sixth since restarting in 2009, and a fitting capstone to a season in which San Diego went 23-0-1 in the regular season, winning the MASL Shield as the top team in the league.

“There’s nothing left to say, we’re the champs,” said Chiles while puffing on a victorious cigar.

The Sockers will return to attempt a three-peat when the Major Arena Soccer League 2022-23 season begins in December.