Match Report // Sockers Win Series With 6-5 OT Win


ONTARIO, CA — Christian Gutierrez chested home a free-kick 41 seconds into sudden-death overtime, as the San Diego Sockers prevailed over the Tacoma Stars 6-5 in a hard-fought Ron Newman Cup playoff opening round match. San Diego won the best-of-three series 2-0, needing overtime in both matches to accomplish the result. The Sockers advance to next weekend’s semifinals against an opponent to be determined, to be hosted in Independence, Missouri.

Gutierrez, the golden goal hero on Friday, pushed in Cesar Cerda’s wing restart centering pass, swiveling his torso in the middle of the crease to redirect the pass beyond the arms of Tacoma keeper Chris Toth. The goal ended the momentum built by the Stars, who had rallied for back-to-back goals in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter, including a set-piece goal with just six seconds remaining in regulation to tie the score.

“It was a set-piece, and I was marked,” said Gutierrez of the golden goal, “All I did was move ahead, and direct the ball with my chest into the goal. Thanks to God, it went in!”

A game filled with dramatic twists and turns started with a first-period shocker: the San Diego captain being shown a red card and ejected from the match. Kraig Chiles tangled with Tacoma defender Cory Keitz, and both made contact above the shoulders. Chiles was second to the contact, bringing his arm up around Keitz’s face, and was shown the door with the red card ejection. Barring a reversal on appeal, Chiles will be ineligible for the Sockers’ second-round opening match.

Already leading 1-0 at that point on a Willie Spurr goal, the Stars doubled their advantage on Alex Caceras’ power-play goal at 11:34 of the first period from Micheal Ramos, and Tacoma held an early 2-0 lead.

Searching for offensive answers, San Diego received them from an unlikely source, midfielder Hiram “Pollo” Ruiz. Held without a goal in the regular season, Ruiz netted a natural hat trick between the end of the first quarter and the end of the second quarter, turning a 2-0 deficit into a 3-2 lead. Pollo’s first goal came on a power play initiated by a coach’s challenge, as San Diego’s Phil Salvagio successfully asserted that the Stars had too many men on the floor. On the ensuing power play, Brandon Escoto’s diagonal cross pass found Ruiz unmarked on left wing, and he slotted home his second goal of the playoffs.

The first eleven minutes of the second quarter were scoreless before Pollo lit the fuse, taking two touches at midfield before putting his laces into a swerving strike from beyond the yellow line that bent away from Toth and inside right post at 11:24, good for a 2-2 tie. Just 18 seconds later, Pollo left-footed home a loose ball in the crease, and the Sockers found themselves ahead 3-2, which was the halftime score.

“I honestly don’t remember much,” said Ruiz of his offensive outburst, “I’ll have to go back and look at tape, but I kind of have a feeling that the second (goal) was my favorite. At the end of the day, the goal I liked the most was (Christian’s) golden goal.”

After a scoreless third period, a dramatic fourth-quarter unrolled. Nick Perera smashed home a centering pass from Willie Spurr for a 3-3 tie at 3:27 of the final frame. San Diego answered with back-to-back goals in the 53rd minute, starting with Marcio Leite’s first as a Socker. He received a nifty back-heel pass in the crease from Brian Farber and smashed in the go-ahead strike at 8:08, lifting San Diego in front 4-3.

“I was thinking of changing my shoes, because I hadn’t scored a goal,” said Leite, “But tonight, my family was in the stands. I told my wife, maybe having my kids in the stands would make the difference, and it did.”

Scoring in bunches, San Diego netted again just 26 seconds later. Goalkeeper William Vanzela’s long throw-out from the crease bounced just in front of the attacking yellow line, where Brandon Escoto was able to follow the bounce and get in front of his defender. Escoto slotted the ball past Toth near post for a 5-3 lead at 8:34, with Vanzela (12/17 saves) earning the assist.

The Stars were the MASL’s best team with six attackers in 2021, and showed why once again on Sunday evening, scoring twice with the extra man to tie the game. Both goals came on top-of-arc set-piece opportunities. Vini Dantas and Micheal Ramos both scored from the left corner on passes from Jamael “Juice” Cox. Ramos’ equalizing goal came with just six seconds remaining on the fourth-quarter clock. 

The Sockers now await the decision of top seed Florida, which has the right to choose its semi-final opponent from the field of San Diego, Ontario, and Kansas City. The remaining two clubs will face each other in the second semi-final. Both sets of matches will be played at Cable Dahmer Arena in Independence, Missouri, on Thursday and Saturday night.