New Faces, Same rivalries
The MASL of now is a different MASL than it was a year ago. Perhaps most noticeable is the fact that, instead of splitting teams into the Pacific, Southwest, South Central, and Eastern Divisions, all 18 teams will be divided into the Eastern and Western Conferences.
Now, instead of being in a division with three other teams, the Sockers are now in a division with five other teams, including the team that gave them their one regular-season loss (Tacoma Stars) and the one that stonewalled them in the playoffs (Monterrey Flash).
Also included in the newly minted Western Division are the expansion Mesquite Outlaws and the Soles de Sonora. Sonora, who played in the Ron Newman Finals in 2016 and 2017, went on hiatus in the 2018-2019 season after team CEO Rogelio Cota was preoccupied with other business ventures. The games between the Sonora and San Diego have always been rife with competition, especially during postseason play.
The Outlaws, on the other hand, are the lone expansion group and will take one of the two spots that were left when the El Paso Coyotes and RGV Barracudas FC moved to the MASL 2 division. With them and the Suns in the Western Conference, that gives the Sockers six other teams to compete with in the Western Conference.
The postseason structure has also been changed. Last year, each conference final and the Ron Newman championship were all one-and-done formats. This made the Sockers playoff exit all the tougher; they beat Tacoma in a three-game series but were only permitted one game against Monterrey.
This year, each playoff series will be a best-of-three format, with the third game being played out as a 30-minute mini-game.
Another wrinkle in the playoffs is a benefit for the top seed. Whoever secures the best record in their conference get to choose who they face in the playoffs. If the Sockers get the top seed, then can face any opponent of their choosing.
There and Back Again
What a whacky schedule the Sockers have. After having four straight home games from December 22 to January 19, they hit the road to play six games in three different states and a different country from January 24 to February 8.
Of those six games, three teams (Monterrey, Baltimore Blast, and the Harrisburg Heat) appeared in the 2018-2019 playoffs while Sonora had been a constant thorn in San Diego’s side. So, in a little over two weeks, the Sockers will be; flying to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to face the Heat, take an hour bus ride to play Baltimore the next day, fly back home to recuperate in San Diego before crossing the US-Mexico border to face Monterrey and Sonora, then hop on another plane for Florida to take on the Orlando SeaWolves and Florida SC.
Are the Sockers worried about the schedule? Of course not. In fact, they welcome the challenge it brings.
“I’m not worried… Actually, I’m very excited about how difficult our schedule is,” said a confidant Pardo. “I think games like that prepare you for the postseason.”
The difficulty of the road trip cannot be understated. Jet lag is a serious issue that can hit a team when they least expect it and playing back-to-back games mixed in with long rides through the night would fatigue anyone.
The true mark of a playoff team is how well they can perform under harsh circumstances. For many players, this isn’t their first rodeo and after combining that experience with the sheer depth of the bench, it isn’t too far of a stretch to say that this storm can easily be weathered.
To wrap things up
It’s playoffs or bust for the Sockers this year. The last time the Sockers brought home the Ron Newman cup was way back in 2013, when the Sockers defeated the Detroit Waza (yes, that was their real name) 8-at the then called Valley View Casino Center.
Despite all the new teams coming into play and despite the restructuring of conferences, nobody on the Sockers is afraid going into the season.
“We have the confidence to play against any team,” announced Pardo. “There is no doubt in my mind (that) we will be in the mix.”
It won’t get any easier and a repeat of last year is asking a lot. With only two conferences and four playoff spots for each one, the going won’t be easy.
Considering the Sockers track record, that’s just how they wanted it all along.
I am currently attending San Diego State University while working on achieving a major in journalism. At SDSU, I write for The Daily Aztec while also hosting the sports radio show “Picked Off”, for KCR Radio. A loyal fan of San Diego sports, I hope to bring content that you will enjoy reading.