San Diego, California
As far as the standings are concerned, Saturday’s match against the Monterrey Flash had no meaning to the Sockers.
At 22-1 and a win percentage of .951, San Diego had already locked up both the Pacific Division and home-field advantage to the playoffs. Not even a loss would change that.
But to the players on the field, the standings didn’t matter. In front of them was a scrappy team heading to the playoffs, and the Sockers wanted to win. “We knew coming into this that it’s gonna be a playoff game,” said goalkeeper Boris Pardo on the mentality of the team, “It’s a great warmup game, they’re one of the best teams in the league, you want to play them at the end of the season.”
Monterrey was playing like they had something to prove as well because right after a Landon Donavan blue card gave a power play to the Flash, Miguel Vaca slipped behind the defense thanks to the man advantage. The Sockers offense made them wish they never scored, as a tying goal from Brandon Escoto started a four-goal rally.
A push to Brian Farber set up a reset shot opportunity and, with Kraig Chiles taking the shot, the ball is virtually guaranteed to find the back of the net, which it did to give the Sockers the lead. The aforementioned “shove” of Farber was a product of the high emotions on the field of play, as many players hit the turf after contact was made. Players on both sides were getting very chippy with one another, and it all came to a head after Escoto’s second goal led to a mosh pit of players pushing and shoving one another while yelling at anyone who would listen.
Cooler heads prevailed, and the game continued to the second quarter, with Chiles sniping a shot from the red line to sneak a goal past Monterrey’s goalkeeper Diego Reynoso. The insurance goal kept the Sockers afloat, as two Monterrey goals in the final two minutes of the first half made it a 4-3 game.
The one-goal lead immediately vanished as a Vaca goal tied the game up. The game remained deadlocked until the five minutes of the third quarter when a right-footed strike from Hiram “Pollo” Ruiz blazed past Reynoso and into the goal, giving the lead back to the Boys in the Blue Jerseys.
Both teams went into the final quarter bitterly clashing for superiority. For Monterrey’s Damian Garcia, perhaps a little too bitterly as his fourth foul in the half earned him the wonderful award of two minutes in the penalty box and a blue card. The power play offense from San Diego, once a weakness, took full advantage of the opportunity as Chiles hammered a shot home to secure a hat trick.
The 7,399 figured that this would be the death blow, but Monterrey refused to go down without a fight. Two goals by Tayou and Vaca tied the game up for the third time, and it was looking like San Diego would be going into their second overtime in as many games. Overtime would not be happening on Brandon Escoto’s watch.
With two and a half minutes remaining in the game and Pechanga Arena as loud as they’ve been all season, the elegant Escoto tucked a shot into the top right corner of the net for a go-ahead goal. The striker rushed to midfield amidst a crowd of his teammates and bathed in the admiration and cheers of the Sockers’ fans. Not even six attackers from Monterrey could kill the momentum, and San Diego ended the season with a 7-6 win and their 21st in a row.
For San Diego, they will wait to find out who they face in the playoffs. The outcome of the Jermaine Jones led Ontario Fury, and Flash determine who gets to meet the Sockers in the postseason. If the Fury takes the win, they tie the Tacoma Stars in both win total and win percentage, but move on thanks to a superior goal differential (+31 to Tacoma’s +19). If the Fury loses tomorrow’s game, then the Stars take the final playoff spot for themselves. Either way, San Diego begins the playoffs on the road in either Ontario or Tacoma before coming back to Pechanga Arena to play a Game 2 and a potential Game 3.