The COVID-19 pandemic has affected every major sport, not just in the country but across the world. The Major Arena Soccer League was just one of those that had to adapt.
So when the MASL and its Board of Directors announced to play a modified 2020-2021 season, San Diego fans were ecstatic to see the San Diego Sockers’ name included on the list of teams to opt into the shortened season.
Just one problem: the San Diego Sockers won’t be in San Diego for the time being.
As the team believes that it will not be possible to play at Pechanga Arena or any local venue, the team will play their matches outside California to fulfill their schedule requirements.
However, the show must go on. Fortunately for Sockers’ fans, this year’s show has an exciting premise.
A majority of the old stalwarts from the 2019-2020 squad that finished 16-5 and second in the West have returned. Kraig Chiles, the team’s all-time leader in goals scored, anchors an offense that boasts midfielders Brian Farber and Slaivsa Ubiparipovic, who, like Chiles, were named MASL All-Stars for their performances in the 2019-2020 season.
One of the more feel-good stories out of training camp is the return of defender Felipe Gonzales. After suffering a torn ACL in January 2019, Gonzales reports to San Diego two years later, ready to contribute to the squad.
He is not the only player to return, as Brandon Escoto will be looking to re-establish his elite level of play after an ankle injury led to 18 points in 17 matches. A midseason suspension cast doubt on the Tijuana native’s status with the team, but he has returned to training camp.
The previous regime has been fleshed out with fresh faces, a majority of whom were signed in a flurry of deals in the previous month.
Marcio Leite and Mitchell Cardenas are stalwart defenders that bring veteran experience to a backline that already consisted of two MASL All-Stars in Cesar Cerda and Guerrero Pino. Top goalkeeper William Vanzela was acquired from the Baltimore Blast via a loan to form an imposing tandem in net with current goalkeeper Boris Pardo.
Last season, Leite and Cardenas blocked a combined total of 51 shots while Vanzela led the league in wins (15) and shutouts (2). His 4.48 goals-against-average (GAA) and .706 save percentage (SV%) were good for third and fifth-best in the league, respectively.
This isn’t to discount the work done by the other defenders. Cerda and Pino combined to block 32 shots while Pardo, despite seeing a slight downturn in his numbers, still finished in the top 10 among MASL goalkeepers in GAA (4.90), SV% (.693), and wins (11).
Newcomer Gordy “Kid Dynamite” Gurson was one of the top offensive free-agents on the market and signed a three-year contract with San Diego shortly after free agency began. The 28-year-old striker brings enthusiasm and a burst of speed to the Sockers’ front line and has 87 goals and 53 assists in just 66 regular-season games played.
San Diego will be playing all of their games on their road and competing with seven other teams for the Ron Newman Cup (the seven teams do not include three East Coast clubs still waiting for an opportunity to join the season).
The Sockers start the season with matches against the Kansas City Comets on Jan. 29 and the Dallas Sidekicks on Jan. 31. Each of those matches will be an “away” games.
The constant travel will no doubt put a lot of stress on the player’s bodies. Injuries are bound to happen, and a single positive coronavirus case can shut down a game or potentially a season.
The Sockers’ main weapon in combating the fatigue brought by travel? Depth. Lots of depth.
Aside from the aforementioned players, San Diego still has players like Eddie Velez, Travis Pittman, Hiram Ruiz, and Taylor Walter Bond (who will be serving a one-game suspension for penalty point accumulation from the 2019-2020 season) serving key depth roles off the bench.
It will be an odd year for the Sockers. It will be an odd year for the MASL. But, leagues like the MLB and NFL proved a season can be completed during a pandemic.
So get ready, Sockers’ fans. The show is about to start.