Shorthanded Sockers Down Blast To Win 20th Game
The San Diego Sockers’ talent has been on display in the Major Arena Soccer League all season, but the month of March has given the league a chance to see the Sockers’ heart.
Behind an unlikely hat trick from Eduardo “El Vaquero” Velez, a fourth-string forward filling in, the Sockers overcame a roster crippled by seven injured players to beat the Baltimore Blast 8-6 on Saturday night at SECU Arena, sending a sellout crowd home disappointed from the campus of Towson University. The Sockers (20-0-1, 57 points) won their 17th straight match, finishing a 2-0 series sweep in Baltimore and improving to 11-0 on the road this season.
A see-saw affair saw Tavoy Morgan net two early goals to pace the San Diego attack, while Ibrahima “Kalou” Keita scored a hat trick for the Blast. Boris Pardo stopped 16 of 22 shots for his league-leading 16th win in net. The match was tied 1-1, 3-3, 4-4 and 5-5 before the Sockers pulled away late.
Velez’s third goal of the match gave San Diego a 6-5 lead 4:37 into the fourth quarter, and Charlie Gonzalez followed at 5:13 with a long shot from midfield off a Brandon Escoto mid-wall steal, putting the Sockers ahead for good. Tony Donatelli drew Baltimore (12-9, 37 points) within one score on a rebound goal at 10:51, but San Diego’s defense held firm during high pressure and two minutes of six attackers. Escoto’s goal into the empty net with 35 seconds left locked in the final score.
The visitors came bearing gifts, handing Baltimore an early 1-0 lead at 2:08 of the first quarter. Pardo faced high pressure from Oswald Anang and attempted to pass the ball to Cesar Cerda, instead of connecting with Anang’s leg, instantly ricocheting into the back of the goal.
San Diego caught the Blast by surprise to tie the match, using a quick restart from the right wall after a foul, with Baltimore trying to change personnel. Mitchell Cardenas bent a pass to Morgan, who knocked it out of the air first-time and past Vanzela for his 33rd goal of the season, equalizing 1-1 at 5:00.
Seconds later, Velez’s first goal of the year came on a perfect entry pass from Leonardo de Oliveira, slotting a ball down the middle from the yellow line to mid-crease, where “El Vaquero” was able to turn and employ his right foot, rifling a shot over Vanzela’s arms and under the crossbar at 5:44, good for a 2-1 lead.
Both clubs traded goals before the quarter ended, with Juan Manuel Rojo finishing his own wall pass at 7:29 for his 11th goal of the season and a 3-1 lead, and Baltimore’s “Kalou” answering with his first of the night, a first-time deflection of Melo’s entry pass from a yellow line free-kick at 10:46. The Sockers led 3-2 after fifteen minutes of play.
While San Diego enjoyed quality possession in the second quarter, the scoring settled down into a defensive crouch. The Blast enjoyed fortune’s favor when a pinball deflection from behind sent Melo in on goal 1-v-1 with Pardo, using the inside of his right foot to curve a shot over the keeper at 8:24 for the equalizer at 3-3. The Sockers answered late, as Luis “Peewee” Ortega dug a loose ball out of the left corner of the attacking zone, spotting Morgan in the middle of the crease. The target made no mistake on his second of the night and 34th of the season at 13:51. San Diego took a 4-3 lead into the halftime locker room.
“Kalou” netted his second of the match just 1:09 into the third quarter, tying the score once again 4-4. The Sockers surged ahead on Velez’s second, coming off a midfield turnover that sent Eduardo in on net from right wing. Velez took one touch before putting his laces through a rocket into the left side of the net, and a San Diego 5-4 lead at 9:40.
The Sockers suffered a scare with just over three minutes remaining in the third quarter, as Brandon Escoto pursued a loose ball down the floor. With the touch having already passed, Baltimore’s Mike Deasel dove into Escoto’s legs, rolling him up from behind. Amazingly, neither was a card shown nor a foul whistled. Escoto was helped to the bench but was able to return in the fourth quarter.
The Sockers move on to Harrisburg, PA for a 2:05pm PDT matchup with the Harrisburg Heat (3-18, 9 points) from the Farm Show Arena, concluding the club’s 2021-22 MASL road schedule. The match will be carried live exclusively on Twitch, on channel @masl_soccer. San Diego returns home on Thursday, March 31 for “Nopening Night” against the Florida Tropics, with $5 GA tickets, free parking, and $2 Bud Lights. Tickets are available by calling (866) 799-GOAL or visiting sdsockers.com.