Morgan's Golden Goal Strykes At Empire's Heart
Tavoy Morgan scored his second goal of the match 6:58 into golden goal overtime, as the San Diego Sockers overcame a late deficit to beat the Empire Strykers 5-4 on Friday night at Pechanga Arena. Christian Gutierrez netted an equalizing goal with 16.9 seconds left in the fourth quarter to force extra time, and Morgan’s brace sent the Sockers to their 20th straight win at home.
With two late goals and over 60 minutes of hard work, the Sockers (19-2, 54 points) made sure their home field remained a fortress heading into the Ron Newman Cup playoffs, pulling a win out of a performance that was playoff-worthy from both teams. San Diego improved to 10-0 at home this season while winning their 20th regular season home match, a streak that dates back to January of 2022.
“I just wanted to stay close to the goal in case the ball came to me, and it happened,” said Morgan, who netted his 19th and 20th goals of the season.
The golden goal would never have happened without the efforts of the Sockers’ desperate attack, which was playing without key midfielders Charlie Gonzalez (injury) and Brandon Escoto (one-match suspension). San Diego pulled starting keeper Boris Pardo and went to six attackers with a 3:46 left in the match, but struggled to find the equalizer against a set of Empire defenders who stayed on the floor for minutes in an attempt to see out the win.
With thirty seconds remaining, the Sockers were forced to chase down a clearance deep in their zone from Ontario defender Robert Palmer, far from goal. As San Diego pushed the ball back upfield, Palmer turned on another loose touch and attempted one more clearance to seal the match. Instead, the ball sailed into the benches for a delay of game, and the Sockers gained a top-arc free kick.
After a timeout, captain Kraig Chiles sent a pass to Leonardo de Oliveira on right wing. Leo’s initial shot was blocked, but he recovered and fired a second chance volley that caromed off the glass to left wing, where Christian “Golden” Gutierrez was waiting for a fearsome half-volley with the right foot into the back of the net. It was Gutierrez’s team-leading 22nd goal, of which 16 have come either in the fourth quarter or overtime.
Empire (12-7-3, 37 points) finished the season series 1-2-3 against the Sockers, dropping three different matches in golden goal overtime. The point secured allowed the Strykers to solidify their hold on third place in the MASL Western Conference. Leading scorer Franck Tayou had two goals and an assist for Empire. His go-ahead goal at 4:06 of the fourth quarter was a tour-de-force performance, as he walled off San Diego defender Mitchell Cardenas to accept a long aerial pass outside the attacking red line, pivoted to his right foot and took two touches forward under heavy duress, using his left arm to hold off Cardenas as his right foot produced a strike into the top netting for a 4-3 lead.
The Sockers took early leads of 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2, but were quick to concede responses from the Strykers. After Morgan’s first of the night at 13:36--a header off Felipe Gonzalez’s skipping entry pass--put San Diego up 1-0, Mohamed Ndiaye scored for Empire at 14:39 of the quarter to tie the score. Juan Manuel Rojo’s goal at 10:54 of the second quarter was the only other score of the first half, and the Sockers took a 2-1 lead into the locker room at halftime.
The Strykers scored 42 seconds into the second half, as Ndiaye and Tayou teamed up on a header-to-header goal for Tayou’s 35th of the season and a 2-2 tie. Felipe Gonzalez netted for San Diego to take a 3-2 lead at 12:37 of the third, but Empire’s Thyago Henrique was able to trap a long ball forward and pop in another equalizer just 23 seconds later at 13:00.
Sockers’ captain Kraig Chiles was shown a blue card with 1:23 left in the third quarter for a play where Empire goalkeeper Chris Toth (13-of-18 saves) took contact in the head on a scramble in the crease. The play was not reviewed, but replay revealed Toth was kneed in the back of the head by his own defender. San Diego killed the power play but soon saw themselves trailing on Tayou’s individual effort goal. Nonetheless, the Sockers once again found the late answers to thrill a crowd of nearly 1,500.
San Diego now heads out for their final road match of the season, a 2:35pm kickoff from Arena Monterrey in Nuevo Leon, Mexico between the Sockers and Monterrey Flash. The match will be streamed in Spanish on Twitch @masl_soccer, and in English on Twitch channel @sandiegosockers. The Sockers return home on Thursday, March 30 to host the Milwaukee Wave at 7:35pm at Pechanga Arena. Tickets are available by calling (866) 799-GOAL or visiting sdsockers.com.