San Diego Dominates Florida To Earn MASL Shield

 In the battle of #1 vs #2, #1 won with a bullet. 

Tavoy Morgan set a career-high with seven points including five goals, and Charlie Gonzalez added two goals and three assists, as the San Diego Sockers rolled over the Florida Tropics 11-4 on Thursday night at Pechanga Arena San Diego. The Sockers (22-0-1) won their 19th straight game, clinching the best record in the Major Arena Soccer League and home-field advantage throughout the Ron Newman Cup playoffs. 

“We wanted to win this game and make a statement that we’re the best team in the league,” said goalkeeper Boris Pardo, who improved to a league-best 18-0-1, stopping 10 of 12 shots before resting much of the fourth quarter, “No excuses on anybody’s part, you show up to play and the boys did that tonight.”

Before the first quarter had ended, Morgan had scored four goals and the Sockers led 5-0. The score was 7-2 at the half before San Diego methodically dismantled the Tropics (18-3-2) in the third quarter, dominating ten minutes of possession before netting two goals. The Sockers took advantage of Florida’s increasingly physical play, scoring their league-leading 25th and 26th power-play goals. 

“It’s very important to come out and get four goals early to give the guys the confidence to go out and play as hard as possible,” said Morgan, who is second in the MASL with 39 goals and third with 49 points, “We were able to steal the game early and were victorious.”

Leonardo de Oliveira’s smooth footwork got the Sockers going, as he slotted a pass through three Tropics players to Morgan in the crease at 5:02, Tavoy turning for his first of the night. Leo had three assists, giving him a league-leading 33 for the season. Mitchell Cardenas then got on the front end of back-to-back assists to Morgan, first with an entry pass to the left wall where Tavoy burst through a double-team and in on goal at 5:57, and then with an aerial service from half-floor that Morgan barely nicked with a leaping touch of the head at 9:30. The natural hat trick for Morgan made it 3-0. 

Charlie Gonzalez’s pinpoint-accurate shot from the right-wing at 10:32 made it 4-0, and Leo sent in a surging Morgan for his fourth at 12:40, a lovely spin and left-footed shot through the legs of the defender. Florida’s Chad Vandegriffe finished a set-piece goal at 13:00 to end the first quarter scoring, and the Sockers took a 5-1 lead into the break, their second five-goal first quarter of the season (1/28/22 vs Tacoma).

The Sockers received surprising good news earlier in the week when forward Christian Gutierrez, who was feared to be lost to a broken ankle after a rough tackle against Tacoma on March 20, returned to practice just a week after X-rays were negative. Gutierrez got on the end of a deeply creative pass from Charlie Gonzalez, a back-door alley-oop pass smashed by the right foot into the upper V at 2:12 of the second quarter for a 6-1 lead. Gutierrez later scored on a counter from Gonzalez at 11:26 of the third for his 19th goal of the season. 

Playing without seven players due to late-season injuries, the Sockers dressed Dallin Cutler as a call-up from Sockers2 for the third straight game, and Cutler found himself on a midfield deflection from Morgan racing in on goal 1-v-1 with the keeper in the 30th minute. A clinical left-footed finish gave Cutler his first MASL goal, and the Sockers a 7-2 halftime lead. 

San Diego turned to their possession game in the second half, hunkering down on defense and wearing out the Tropics field players. While Pardo parried a pair of saves, the Sockers held the ball for the better part of ten minutes. Florida had a free-kick just six feet from the San Diego left post, but Pardo made a point-blank reaction save of the centering pass, sending out Gonzalez on a breakaway run. Charlie waited for Gutierrez to catch up racing in on right wing before feeding him the pass for the finish and the back-breaking goal, 8-2 at 11:26.

This was vintage Sockers play reminiscent of the 1980s, when opponents would cower while the home team danced. San Diego has now gone 8-0 against the teams ranked 2nd-5th in the MASL table, and saved their best for the highest-scoring club in the league, the Tropics. Florida entered the night 9-0-2 on the road but took their first regulation road loss of the season in an emphatic fashion.

The match got chippy in the final 20 minutes, with Florida taking four blue cards, and San Diego receiving two for unsportsmanlike conduct. The Sockers pocketed both of their resulting power plays, with Morgan scoring on a 4-v-3 situation with just five seconds remaining in the third quarter, and Cesar Carda knocking in the match’s final goal at 12:58 of the fourth.

Breno Oliveira and Victor Parreiras (two goals) scored on reserve Xavier Snaer-Williams in the closing minutes. 

San Diego has one match remaining in the regular season, a Sunday 5:05pm kickoff against the Ontario Fury at Pechanga Arena. Fans attending the match will receive a Ze Roberto t-shirt commemorating the veteran defender’s three-decade career. The Sockers will be going for their third 20-match winning streak in franchise history, having accomplished the feat in 2018-19 (23 matches) and from 2010-13 (all-time US pro record 48-match winning streak). Tickets are available at or by phone at (866) 799-GOAL