Strykers End Sockers Winning Streak At 30 Games

ONTARIO, CA—All good things must come to an end, sometimes emphatically.

The San Diego Sockers played their least impressive game in many seasons, falling behind quickly and showing little appetite for a comeback in a sluggish 10-4 loss to the Empire Strykers on Wednesday night at Toyota Arena. Defending MASL Offensive Player of the Month and four-time league MVP Franck Tayou had his best game as a Fury/Stryker against San Diego, netting four goals with three assists for a seven-point night. 

San Diego (10-1, 29 points) saw five different winning streaks all vanish at once. The Sockers had won 10 straight on the season, 14 straight in all competitions (dating back to last season’s playoffs), 17 straight on the road, 30 in a row in the MASL regular season, and held a point streak of 51 straight games (47-0-4). Empire (10-5-1, 29 points) moved into a tie for first place in the Western Conference, although San Diego has five fewer games played than Empire. The Fury/Strykers franchise improved to 9-28 all-time against the Sockers.

“We gotta regroup, and it’s game-by-game,” said a glowering head coach Phil Salvagio after the match, “Nobody (in here) cares about the streaks.”

In the place of the winning streaks came some ignominious history, as the Sockers saw themselves on the wrong end of their second-biggest loss since the franchise was reborn in 2009. After not even seeing a multi-goal loss since March of 2021, San Diego lost by six goals and conceded ten, their worst performance since a 9-3 loss at Sonora on February 25, 2017. The performance only topped a 15-8 loss at Sonora on November 7, 2015.

The performance led to a quiet locker room afterward, and an address from Salvagio to his team behind closed doors. While the volume level didn’t rise to peel the paint off the walls, the fury in Salvagio’s eyes moments later told a story.

“You go on a long winning streak and you think you can just show up and play, and for the teams we play, it’s the game they circle on their calendar,” said Salvagio, “We play Empire six times (a season) and we know it’s going to be a battle. This time they handed our asses to us. Sorry to say that, but it’s the truth.”

The Sockers came out with a strategy of high pressure, attacking the ball wherever it was on the field in hopes of forcing turnovers and quick strikes. The downside of a high-pressure defense, however, is when pressure is broken. Empire smoothly dismantled San Diego with three Sockers in the press, working an open ball up the middle on counter-attack. Gabriel Costa slid a pass sending in Justin Stinson on right wing, whose rising shot found the high corner of the net for a quick 1-0 lead 2:02 into the match.

San Diego’s best chance in the first quarter came on an attempted wall pass to Tavoy Morgan that was shot high over frame on first time service. The Sockers kept up the pressure but got burned again late in the frame. Cesar Cerda was called for a foul at midfield and as he looked to the official in protest, the Strykers quickly restarted and created an instant 3-v-2 going forward. Franck Tayou’s lofted cross from left-to-right found Maicon de Abreu unmarked on right wing, and he was able to slot his shot inside the left corner of the net for his first goal of the season at 13:36. The Sockers found themselves down 2-0 after the opening quarter.

San Diego clawed one back midway through the second quarter on a secondary attack. After an initial pressure of the Strykers’ net came up empty, Charlie Gonzalez reset the offense with a pass out to an approaching Leonardo de Oliveira on right wing. Leo took one touch before unleashing a low, hopping shot that eluded Chris Toth’s one-handed diving save attempt, sneaking into the net at 8:39 for a 2-1 scoreline.

Controversy, cards and challenges ruled the remainder of the second quarter. San Diego’s Cesar Cerda was shown a blue card for contact above the head of Empire’s Gabriel Costa, but after taking a look, the officials ruled a blue on each side and 4-v-4 soccer. Empire head coach Jimmy Nordberg threw his challenge flag looking for an upgrade to a red card on Cerda, but video review upheld the call.

The 4-v-4, however, proved disadvantageous for the visitors from San Diego. After stretching out the Sockers defense, Empire lifted a long ball into the attacking zone, where Boris Pardo had to come out to challenge the Strykers’ Nestor Hernandez. Action continued, and seconds later Nestor was able to spot an unmarked Israel Sesay in the left corner. As the defense rotated, Sesay fed Tayou alone in the crease for a tap-in goal and a 3-1 lead at 11:34. 

Now, it was San Diego’s turn to challenge, as head coach Phil Salvagio threw his flag seeking a foul on Hernandez from when he challenged Pardo. The video review was short and unproductive from the Sockers’ point of view, as the goal quickly was ruled to stand. Empire enjoyed the 3-1 lead into the halftime locker room.

San Diego, if possible, looked even more sluggish leaving the locker room than they did going in. Empire was quickly able to extend their lead, as Franck Tayou stepped through a risky 1-v-1 tackle attempt by Luis “Peewee” Ortega, allowing him to step into the middle alone against Pardo for a simple goal at 1:48. A couple minutes later, it was Tayou returning the favor to Mohamed Ndiaye at 5:31. 

When Jesus Pacheco was able to step out of a corner triple-team and find himself alone on Pardo for an angle-shot goal, the Sockers were trailing 6-1, Pacheco was dancing between teammates at center circle, and San Diego’s many winning streaks were given firmly-stamped expiration dates.

“We weren’t prepared, we weren’t ready, we didn’t have the heart,” said Salvagio, “It just wasn’t right.”

Desperation set in early as with 4:19 left in the third quarter, the Sockers took out Pardo in favor of Charlie Gonzalez as a sixth attacker. Nothing came of it but a yellow card shown to Pardo for dissent while he was on the bench. Xavier Snaer-Williams was forced to start the fourth quarter in net, and quickly conceded Pacheco’s second of the night just 18 seconds into the fourth quarter. 

San Diego spent the entire fourth quarter in six attacker formation when possible, and scored a pair of goals courtesy of Leo and Charlie Gonzalez at 3:57 and 6:26. A Franck Tayou long bomb from beyond midfield into the empty net for his hat trick goal at 9:17 ended any fleeting thoughts of a massive comeback. Nestor Hernandez and Tayou poured in two more empty netters in-between a Juan Manuel Rojo goal to set the final margin.

“At the end of the day, you’ve got to make the playoffs, and right now this team is the worst team (in the MASL). We could lose every game from here on out the way we played. It’s about us. We’ve got to take care of ourselves.”

The Sockers have little time to regroup, heading to Washington state on Friday for a Saturday night matchup against the Tacoma Stars from the accesso ShoWare Center. The match will kick at 7:05pm on Twitch.