The goal was simple. Defeat the Turlock Express at home, and the Sockers clinch the Pacific Division. A spot in the playoffs was already clinched, but securing the Pacific Division with a win all but guaranteed first place.
“That’s the first goal we had,” said goalkeeper Boris Pardo on winning the division, “Now we have to finish out strong and look forward to these last few games so we can finish out strong.”
To do that, the Sockers had to secure a win against the 2-14 Turlock Express. In three games against Turlock, San Diego has scored a total of 32 goals and allowed a measly six. However, both Brian Farber and Felipe Gonzales were out with injuries, leaving the team slightly short-handed in terms of firepower.
The first twelve seconds of the game set the tone of the night. Landon Donavan, he of World Cup greatness, took a pass from Brandon Escoto, skirted past the diving Turlock goalie Edgar Martinez and tipped in his first career MASL goal. The striker stalked away from his prize with an icy swagger and celebrated with his jubilant teammates, who swarmed him on the field. “It happened so fast, the game started and the next thing I knew I had a tap-in,” Donavan said after the game.
Joining him on the scoring fun was Luis Ortega who, after a reset penalty was called against Turlock, got a pass from captain Kraig Chiles. Ortega was in the right position at the right time and his shot from the top of the box rattled off the top of the post and into the net for a Sockers goal.
“We have been starting off very good this year… we wanted to take control from the very first minute,” said head coach Phil Salvagio on his team in the first quarter. “We try to get momentum and we don’t want any team get into it.”
Donavan wasn’t done scoring, as his tip-in of a rebounded Guerrero Pino shot made the score 3-0. A Raymundo Contreras blue card for contact above the shoulder put San Diego at a man disadvantage and was the gateway to a Tacoma goal, whose shot was so powerful it literally went through the back of the net. A Chiles goal in front of the net upped San Diego’s lead to three at the end of the first quarter.
The name of the second quarter was defense and possession of the ball, meaning little offense for either side. Credit Turlock with making adjustments to their game after three games of getting hammered by the Sockers strikers. The Express even scored first in the quarter as Omar Tapia split a shot between Donavan and Pino while avoiding a diving Pardo for the goal. However, lead scorer Escoto ensured San Diego kept the three-goal lead going into halftime.
San Diego started to pull away as the Turlock defense started to do more breaking than bending under the intense pressure. Cesar Cerda attracted the attention of Martinez enough to spring him away from his net, leaving Contreras wide open in the box. Cerda fed the defensive captain the ball and, without hesitation, shot the ball for a goal.
Thanks to a tripping penalty against Ivan Rios, the Sockers got a power play opportunity. While they have struggled mightily with the power play, it wasn’t the case this time thanks to Chiles, as his shot zeroed in on the top left corner of the net and rattled in for a goal.
All of these goals were just a preview for the final quarter. Contreras and Escoto scored their second goals in the fourth quarter while Hiram Ruiz, Christian Segura, Christian Gutierrez, and Cesar Cerda poked in goals to make the score 13-2 at the end of the match.
With the victory, San Diego has now clinched the Pacific Division. With their .938 win percentage, San Diego has a clear path to home-field advantage in the playoffs. Their next game is on Sunday, March 10th against the Ontario Fury.