The San Diego Sockers (19-0-1, 54 pts) extended their winning streak to 16 games in a row with an 8-6 thriller over the Tacoma Stars (5-12-2, 16 pts). The win coupled with a Florida Tropics loss earlier in the day to the Baltimore Blast put them further in control of clinching home-field advantage throughout the Ron Newman Cup playoffs.
With a multitude of injuries, Tavoy Morgan showed once again why he should be in the conversation for MVP with a hat trick in the game. Brandon Escoto also showed up big, scoring two, including the game-winning goal.
The game Sunday started off akin to a heavyweight title fight with both teams feeling the other out and taking infrequent shots. Alan Garcia would break the ice before the media time out, breaking away from defenders and playing a ball back to himself off the boards. Cory Keitz, however, would answer straight back with an absolute rocket from the left. After some good possession from both teams and a great save on a Keitz passback by Danny Waltman, the quarter would end quietly.
The second quarter, however, would start with a bang as Alessandro Canale would bury a shot off a rebound to take the lead. The Sockers pressed hard and would be rewarded through Andy Reyes, using the outside of his foot to beat Waltman at the far post. Tacoma would take a two-goal lead into halftime as Jamael Cox was putting his stamp on the match, scoring both of the last goals of the half.
The Sockers came out with a vengeance to begin the third as Juan Manuel Rojo put away a rebound off a Charlie Gonzalez shot within a minute of the half kicking off. San Diego would continue to press and attack the goal, pushing for an equalizer. However, Reyes, who was just coming back from a hamstring issue, pulled up after taking a shot and would add to the Sockers’ injury woes.
Tacoma would hold San Diego off, but Morgan would score his first off a great turn and fire the ball past Waltman right at the media timeout. Christian Gutierrez would also go down shortly after the timeout with an apparent ankle injury and would not return for the game. Morgan would return life back into Pechanga, taking advantage of soft defending and getting his second of the quarter, and giving the Sockers back the lead. Tacoma and San Diego both had chances and played hard, but the quarter would end with no further incident.
The final 15 minutes proved to be a wild and crazy ride. Cox would get his hat trick with a goal early in the fourth off a free kick for an illegal defensive clearance. The fast and furious end-to-end action led to another free-kick for Tacoma. In what could have essentially been a replay of the Cox goal, Nick Perera would bury the pass off the ensuing free kick this time instead of passing it off to get the lead back for the Stars. With stalwarts like Kraig Chiles and Cesar Cerda out, Gutierrez injured in the game and losing the lead in the fourth. The Sockers looked to Morgan once more as he would complete the hat trick and even the game up less than a minute later.
Brandon Escoto would follow that up a minute later after picking Tacoma’s pocket off another free-kick. The Stars went to the well one too many times, and Escoto read it perfectly, and then he and Rojo were off to the races and left Waltman with zero chance to keep the Sockers from taking the lead once again.
Tacoma would keep fighting, though, and after a penalty kill, could not find a way past the Sockers and Boris Pardo. Even with Cox out as the sixth attacker San Diego stood strong, and with seconds left, Escoto would take a stolen ball and walk it into the net to cap off the 8-6 victory.
The Sockers will need to hope that Gutierrez is able to play sooner rather than later and will have to hope that players like Chiles are available for next weekend.
San Diego will be traveling out to Baltimore once more to take on the Blast at 6:05 EDT Saturday night.
After that, they will make the trip to Harrisburg to face the Heat at 5:05 EDT on Sunday.
Next week will be crucial in the race for home-field advantage as the Sockers now hold a five-point advantage on the Tropics.