Sockers Surge Past Stars With Strong Second Half
Travel weary and reduced by injury, the San Diego Sockers dug deep to find second half answers. Slavisa Ubiparipovic scored twice in a five-goal third-quarter run, then knocked home the game-winner with 2:05 remaining in the game, as the Sockers held off the Tacoma Stars by an 8-6 final score on Sunday night at Pechanga Arena San Diego. Defender Cesar Cerda added a two-goal night of his own, as the Sockers (5-1) rallied from a third-quarter 4-1 deficit to post their fifth straight win.
“We knew we had to come out strong in the second half,” said Ubiparipovic of the Sockers’ second-half burst, “Tacoma’s a good team, and we came out fired up. It showed.”
Down three and later up by two, the Sockers found themselves in a 6-6 tie late before taking the lead for good with a classic team goal. Forward Leonardo de Oliveira poked the ball through a Tacoma triple-team on the wall, sending in Luis “Peewee” Ortega to lead an out-manned rush. Ortega worked the ball down the middle halfway into the crease, wrong-footing the keeper Danny Waltman before feeding Ubiparipovic for a shot that crashed off Waltman’s lower body and in for the lead at 12:35 of the fourth quarter.
San Diego played without midfielder Hiram “Pollo” Ruiz, who was lost to a lower-body injury during warmups. Team captain Kraig Chiles returned to the lineup one week after a mild hamstring strain, but was limited and held scoreless for the third straight match.
The result was a sluggish offensive start that saw the Sockers concede first on Vince McCluskey’s open left-footed smash in the middle of the penalty area 3:44 into the contest. Cerda answered back with his first of the night, a ground ball goal at 8:35 on Christian Gutierrez’s assist, for a 1-1 tie which held to the quarter pole.
The second quarter was a defensive shot-blocking clinic by Tacoma, as the club was out-shot 15-2 but blocked eight shots, part of a remarkable 14 blocks in the first half. Tacoma scored on both of their two shots in the frame, with Mike Ramos finding an open run down the middle for his 8th of the year, and defending MASL MVP Nick Perera calmly finishing a shootout penalty for his 6th. The Stars led 3-1 at the break.
Trailing 4-1 on Jamael Cox’s goal off the leg of defender Ray Contreras just over two minutes into the third quarter, the Sockers committed to defensive high-pressure and were able to wear down the tenacious Stars defense. Slavisa’s first of the night came on a left-footed low strike from the top of the arc that snuck between Tacoma keeper Danny Waltman (19 saves) and the right post at 2:52.
Moments later, de Oliveira found a lane for a rolling service out of the left corner and to the foot of midfielder Christian Gutierrez, who was making a lateral run through the box. Gutierrez’s smooth finish at 4:18 brought the match to 4-3, the crowd of 2,202 to life and the Sockers off to the races.
Next, it was Cerda finishing his brace in style, going off foot against Waltman with a left-footed shot and goal up high, knotting the score at 4-4 just 5:33 into the half. Cerda was active on both sides of the floor, whistled for five fouls in the match while often marking Perera one-on-one.
What followed for the lead was a thing of beauty, and a sure candidate for one of the top MASL goals of the year. Working a low cycle in the right corner of the offensive zone, Ubiparipovic chested a loose ball to his left foot, turning for a menacing full volley that rocketed into the upper left corner at 7:13 for a 5-4 Sockers scoreline.
Luis “Peewee” Ortega celebrated with a fist pump at the top of the arc, and goalkeeper Boris Pardo lifted Slav into the air, but after the match, Ubiparipovic responded with a wry smile and a shrug.
“It’s nice to score a goal like that, but it was a team win.” Travis Pittman, inserted into the lineup for the injured Ruiz, was unmarked in the middle, sent in on a Peewee pass for a left-footed goal between Waltman’s legs, capping the five-goal run at 9:10 for a 6-4 advantage. Pittman celebrated with a salsa dance.
The Stars went back to work and found their way back to level terms, first with Nick Perera taking advantage of a lull in the Sockers defense before the third quarter was out to knock home his second of the night. After ten nervy and scoreless fourth-quarter minutes, Tacoma defender Corey Keitz was given acres of space for a full field run, finishing with a toe-poke goal down the middle to tie the score 6-6 at 10:07.
The Sockers, though, would have the late answers, and the fifth straight win. Brian Farber’s flying header of a Pardo long throw-out against six attackers closed the scoring with under 36 seconds to play, giving the veteran Farber a goal in five straight games.
San Diego returns to the home field after the Christmas break, hosting Soles de Sonora on Sunday, December 29 at 5:05pm. It is Star Wars Night, with the Sockers wearing Star Wars-themed jerseys, to be auctioned off to benefit the San Diego Food Bank. Tickets are available at Sockers.com or by calling 866-799-4625.