Sockers Earn Playoff Berth With Win Over Savage
Playing in front of legends from the Sockers past on Alumni Night, goalkeeper Boris Pardo kept San Diego’s winning streak alive with a legendary performance of his own.
Pardo stopped 15 of 17 shots and added a fourth-quarter assist on offense, as the Sockers scored the final four goals of the match unanswered, taming the Chihuahua Savage 6-2 on Sunday night in front of 1,378 at Pechanga Arena. Pardo made five of his saves in the final three minutes, including a diving stop as time expired.
The Sockers (16-0-1, 45 points) won their thirteenth straight match, edging in front of Florida once again for the top spot in the MASL standings table. San Diego completed a 4-0 regular-season sweep of Chihuahua (7-6-2, 21 points), who saw their seven-match winning streak halted.
“We spoke in the locker room about the legacy the Sockers have, and these players in the house that came to watch us. You have to perform in front of them,” said Pardo, who authored his seventh straight start allowing three or fewer goals, “Otherwise, they’ll be your toughest critics. We had to make sure to please them as well.”
San Diego welcomed back Hall of Famers Kevin Crow, Zoltan Toth, Brian Quinn, and Paul Wright as well as dozens more Sockers alumni to the match. With the two hottest clubs in the MASL locking boots, the expectation was for a top-shelf contest, and expectations were met and surpassed by the intensity on the field.
Kraig Chiles continued his renaissance season with two more goals and an assist, his sixth straight multi-point match. Charlie Gonzalez (two goals), Leonardo de Oliveira (goal/assist), Cesar Cerda (goal/assist), and Brandon Escoto (two assists) all notched multi-point efforts.
The Savage have been fortified mightily as the season has gone on with imports from the Monterrey Flash, who have spent the last two seasons on hiatus. The Flash eliminated the Sockers from the Ron Newman Cup playoffs in 2018 and 2019, and even if many of their players were dressed in Chihuahua white-and-gold on Sunday, Chiles recognized the rivalry.
“It’s always a hotly contested game against (Chihuahua), and to be honest, they’re our rival,” said the Sockers captain, “Even though (the Savage) are new to the league this year, we know a lot of these players. We’ve had really competitive battles for years, and nothing’s changed.”
The Savage entered the night leading the MASL in goals-per-match at 8.6, but saw their top attackers shut down by the San Diego defense. Jorge “Pareja” Rios saw his 12-match goals streak end and stars Edgar “Torrez” Gonzalez and Brayan Aguilar were also shut out from the scoreboard. Uriel Zuart and Hugo Puentes netted the Chihuahua goals.
Pardo made a point of highlighting the San Diego defender corps of Guerrero Pino, Mitchell Cardenas, Cesar Cerda, Juan-Manuel Rojo, and Juan Gonzalez for their work in front of his net.
“They’re monsters, beasts, the best in the league,” said a beaming Pardo after the match, “I’m very fortunate to have these guys in front of me, I can’t give them enough credit. We’re a unit.”
San Diego scored the first goal of the match on a quick restart after a Chihuahua foul in the attacking left corner. Charlie Gonzalez caught the Savage defense in a change with a quick pass to Escoto, who sent the ball to Chiles down low for a power finish and his 19th goal of the season at 7:53 of the first quarter.
The Savage answered when Zuart’s attempted squaring pass from the right edge of the crease caught the heel of San Diego’s Christian Gutierrez, the ball deflecting back to Zuart with no one in front of him. The Chihuahua defender smashed a shot that beat Pardo near post for his fifth goal of the year and a 1-1 tie at 10:46.
Both defenses locked down during a highly contentious second quarter, which came close to finishing scoreless despite San Diego out-shooting Chihuahua 10-1 in the frame. The Sockers unlocked the tie with a brilliant piece of work from Chiles, who chest-trapped a long aerial distribution from Pardo, and flicked a cross-pass out of the air with the inside of his right foot. Cesar Cerda took the pass and smashed it into the top-right corner for his third goal of the year and a 2-1 lead at 13:09 of the quarter. San Diego took the 2-1 lead into the halftime locker room.
The third quarter was similar in terms of intensity and low scoring, but moments of brilliance came late. The Savage equalized on a beautiful header by Hugo Puentes, using the right side of his head to snap home a rebound of a glass pass from Enrique Cañez at 11:47.
Just seconds later, San Diego’s Tavoy Morgan drew a blue card holding penalty on the Savage, and the Sockers converted the power play into the eventual game-winning goal. Leo spotted Chiles unmarked on the back post and got a pass from the right corner through the defense and onto Chiles’ boot for his second of the night and 20th of the season, and a 3-2 lead at 12:22.
The fourth quarter was all Sockers. Charlie Gonzalez was in the right place in the crease to knock in Cesar Cerda’s wall pass at 1:14 for a 4-2 lead. After a penalty to Chihuahua for pushing, Leo finished at a sharp angle from the right corner on an Escoto assist for a 5-2 advantage at 11:31. Charlie’s second of the night found an empty net from midfield off a Pardo outlet, as the Savage pushed their keeper Berna Valdovinos (9/15 saves) up the field to try and add to the attack.
The win moved the Sockers—at least temporarily—back into the top spot in the MASL standings table with 45 points, two ahead of the Florida Tropics (14-1-1, 43 points), who have a match in hand. San Diego and Florida will meet at Pechanga Arena on March 31. Chihuahua remains in the eighth position in the playoff bracket, two points ahead of Milwaukee and five up on Tacoma.
San Diego heads out to the East Coast next week, where they will take on historic rival Baltimore on Saturday afternoon at SECU Arena, before moving on to Utica for a Sunday morning match. Both matches can be viewed on MASL TV on YouTube. The Sockers return home on Sunday, March 20 to take on the Tacoma Stars on Military Night. Tickets for the match are available at sdsockers.com/tickets or by calling (866) 799-GOAL.