Pechanga Arena San Diego, California-
The San Diego Sockers had been without veteran scorer Hiram Ruiz since their matcha against Soles de Sonora on December 29th.
On Sunday, they welcomed him back as the expansion Mesquite Outlaws rolled into Pechanga Arena. The man they call “Pollo” immediately made his presence known, scoring a goal in the first 14 seconds of the match.
“I’m very thankful to come back and score the first points,” said Ruiz after the match. “It is important for our team to stay united and remain victorious.”
Ruiz’ first goal opened up the floodgates for a barrage of offense in the first two minutes, as Leonardo de Oliviera and Kraig Chiles, who broke a four-game scoreless streak, cashed in on the sloppy Mesquite defense with goals.
Following the Chiles goal, Mesquite quickly called a time out to right the ship. Whatever was said worked, as the Outlaws focused their efforts on a zone-like defense which pushed the Sockers back whenever they pressed for an attack on the goal.
Not all the leaks were plugged, as Cesar Cerda sliced through the defense in the second quarter to set up a scoring opportunity. After a pass to Chiles, the Sockers captain took advantage of a now crossed-up Mesquite defense to link up with Cerda once more as the striker finished the attack with a goal, putting San Diego up 4-0.
San Diego kept that 4-0 throughout the quarter thanks to the skillful play of Diego Arriaga, who got the start in the first half and gave way to Boris Pardo in the second half.
After allowing four unanswered goals, Mesquite flipped the script on San Diego by slowly chipping away at the lead. Two third-quarter goals cut the lead in half, and Mitchell Cardenas’ fourth-quarter goal scored after the Sockers failed to clear the ball from their defensive zone, putting the 3,218 fans at Pechanga Arena on the edge of their seats.
The slow second half continued the trend of opposing teams crawling their way back against San Diego as the Sockers have been playing more close games this season then they did at all last year.
Such a rally may have felled a lesser team, but the San Diego defense powered up for one last stand against a now six-man attack as the Outlaws abandoned their traditional goalie in favor of a sixth attacker with three minutes left.
Despite the extra attacker, Mesquite couldn’t find a proper shooting lane. With the seconds ticking down, the Sockers regained possession of the ball. Brian Farber drew the sixth man out of the box and found Cerda, who struck true with his right foot to bury the decisive goal in the back of the net for a 5-3 finish.
While the mark of a good team is the ability to win close matches, the Sockers will undoubtedly like to avoid the suspense of a back-and-forth game. The ability to play a consistent four-quarters will be tested in the upcoming weeks as a brutal six-game road trip will send the Sockers to the East Coast for two games, Mexico for another two games, then back to the East Coast for two matches in Florida.