Sockers Win Classic Clash Of Titans In Chihuahua
Looking ahead to a road trip in which the Sockers would be at their most short-handed of the season, team captain Kraig Chiles confidently rattled off who would still be there, ready to win a match in the most hostile of conditions.
“We’ve got Leo (Leonardo de Oliveira), we’ve got Brandon (Escoto)…we’ve got me.”
Just enough firepower, indeed.
Surviving a fourth quarter when the hosts almost completed a five-goal comeback, the San Diego Sockers posted their most important and clutch win of the season on Friday night, a 9-8 thriller over the Chihuahua Savage at Corner Sport Arena in Chihuahua. The Sockers (13-2, 38 points) moved six points ahead of the second-place Savage in the MASL Western Conference standings, sweeping the season series and taking all six points.
Chiles led the way, posting a hat trick with an assist for a four-point match. He also drew the penalty that led to the winning goal, taking a hand in the small of the back while coming in on goal as the last man in. The play was challenged after a no-call successfully by Sockers head coach Phil Salvagio in search of a blue card and a shootout. Felipe Gonzalez finished the rebound of Brandon Escoto’s shootout attempt that followed, putting San Diego ahead 9-4 late in the third quarter.
Leonardo de Oliveira added a goal and two assists, moving into the MASL lead with seventeen assists on the season. San Diego rallied from an early 2-0 deficit, dominating the middle portion of the match while building a 9-4 lead. The fourth quarter was another matter altogether, as the Savage owned possession, out-shooting the Sockers 12-1. A series of penalties and three late man-advantage goals put Chihuahua down by only one with 2:28 remaining. San Diego was able to sweat out the closing seconds, and got twelve saves from MASL wins leader Boris Pardo in net.
Hugo Puentes had four goals and two assists for the Savage (11-4-1, 32 points), who lost in regulation for just the second time ever at home. The Sockers are now 3-0 all-time in the regular season in Chihuahua, having won twice in overtime last year.
Behind a sold-out crowd, the Savage came out in sharp form, quickly scoring two goals in the first five minutes. Puentes got his first of the night on a header off a wall pass from Roberto Escalante at 2:23, and then used his own side-wall pass to send in Jorge “Pareja” Rios for a 2-0 lead at 4:47.
The Sockers’ comeback began from an unlikely source, as rookie Irvin Mojica made a major contribution in his first MASL match. Signed from MASL-2’s Club Deportivo de Baja California, Mojica rifled in a left-footed volley from a sharp angle near the goal wall at 7:19 for his first goal in his first shift, assisted by Leo to draw the score-line back to 2-1.
Three minutes later, Juan Manuel Rojo took a midfield pass from Luis “Peewee” Ortega and beat his defender with a speed burst down the left wall, poking home his fifth goal of the season at 10:43 to knot the score at 2-2.
The second quarter was where Chiles made his mark. First, the captain played tic-tac-goal with Brandon Escoto at 4:16, exchanging a series of three close-quarter passes in the right quarter that led to Chiles alone in front for a tap-in goal, his tenth of the season but first in five matches. Then, Chiles turned quickly on a midfield lead pass from Leo, skipping a shot off the arm of Chihuahua keeper Berna Valdovinos for a 4-2 lead at 6:48.
With the Savage pushing for a late goal to stem the momentum, the Sockers instead found joy in the closing seconds. Juan Manuel Rojo’s aerial entry pass from midfield was headed by Felipe Gonzalez off the wall to Christian Gutierrez, who flew in for a one-touch score, his fifteenth goal of the season at 14:52, and a clutch goal for a 5-2 halftime lead.
Chihuahua ramped up the pressure out of the locker room and scored on a quick wall pass just 38 seconds into the third quarter, finished by Carlos “Poper” Hernandez. However, the Sockers had an instant answer. From just in front of his own defensive line, Peewee Ortega did a shoulder shimmy to free his right foot and lifted a pass over the shoulder of the defender to Irvin Mojica, who laced his left foot through the ball for a clean goal, his second of the match at 1:05. Just like that, the early momentum was reversed and the score-line was back to 6-3.
Goals by Leo and Chiles built the advantage to 8-3 Sockers, before Puentes netted his second of the match at 8:07. With under a minute in the quarter, Chiles pounced on a turnover and came in on goal via left wing. He took a stiff-arm to the small of the back while shooting, but no whistle came. Head coach Phil Salvagio challenged the play and on review, Chiles was ruled not only to have been fouled, but to have been the last man in on goal. Brandon Escoto was given the chance to take the shootout and while his quick shot was wide left, the rebound came off the boards to the hustling Felipe Gonzalez, who tapped the ball back to himself off the board again, then finished into the upper-right netting at 14:15. The Sockers led 9-4 and victory was seemingly in hand.
And then, the fourth quarter happened, one to entrench the mythos of the Savage as a home team not to be trifled with.
A goal by Edgar “Torrez” Gonzalez at 6:24 made the score 9-5 and got the crowd intrigued. The Sockers took a blue card when captain Cesar Cerda was called for his fourth foul of the second half, giving Chihuahua a power play. During the penalty kill, Felipe Gonzalez was shown a blue card for a reckless challenge in the crease, and the Savage received a shootout. Puentes finished the shootout goal at 10:17, and it was 9-6. “Si se puede!” rained down from the stands, rocking the arena.
Seconds later, Puentes got another wall pass from Poper Hernandez and scissor-kicked it home for his fourth goal of the match at 10:37. It completed the second penalty and narrowed the advantage to 9-7. Cesar Cerda returned from the penalty box, but not for long. With 3:13 remaining, Cerda was whistled for his sixth foul of the game, an automatic red card and ejection. The Savage finished that power play too, with Torrez Gonzalez slotting home Puentes’ assist at 12:42 to make the score 9-8.
A furious final 2:28 saw Chihuahua bring the keeper Valdovinos up as a sixth attacker, control possession, and pressure the Sockers’ zone. Finally in the last thirty seconds, San Diego was able to draw a foul and get the ball up-field, where they passed out the final frantic seconds of the match.
The Sockers move on to Nuevo Leon where they will take on the Monterrey Flash on Sunday from Arena Monterrey. The match is set for a 1:35pm PST kickoff, with Spanish-language coverage on Twitch at @masl_soccer, and English-language coverage on Twitch at @sandiegosockers. The Sockers return home on Saturday, March 4 to take on the Dallas Sidekicks on Alumni Night. Tickets are available by calling (866) 799-GOAL or by visiting sdsockers.com.