The San Diego Sockers (18-0-1, 51 pts) capped off a wild weekend that began with a game in Baltimore that kicked off at 6:05 pm local time Saturday and ended with a game in Utica that finished at 5:27 pm local time on Sunday. Wins 14 and 15 in a row would come in quick succession, but the Sockers were required to battle through all 120 minutes of play against the Baltimore Blast (10-7-0, 31 pts) and Utica City FC (6-13-0, 17 pts).
The smaller field size at Baltimore’s SECU Arena led to fast-paced play all game long. This was never more apparent for what was to come in the game than on the Sockers’ first goal 2:45 into the game. The ball was shot in by Felipe Gonzalez and bounced off a post and two defenders before nestling its way into the back of the net. Baltimore would tie the game through Lucas Roque, but Tavoy Morgan would answer back less than 20 seconds after to give San Diego the lead back. Mitchell Cardenas would double the lead before the first quarter would end by popping in a shot from long distance with 3.1 seconds left.
The Blast, however, would score the next four goals of the game as Nelson Santana grabbed the first two of those. The first would come late in the second quarter and the second early in the third. Baltimore, in the stretch, would use that home-field advantage of the smaller field to great use, putting the Sockers quickly on the back foot and exploiting the minimal space in and around the goal box with great results.
In the third quarter, Baltimore came out with a desire to get ahead that was undeniable. The Blast put the Sockers under fire early and often in the third without letting off the gas pedal for a second. This led to the Santana goal as well as Ibrahima Keita and Roque adding the other two to make it 5-3 Baltimore.
San Diego would flip the script after the media timeout and proceed to pepper the Baltimore goal with shots from everywhere. This would lead to Leonardo De Oliveira and Felipe to get the game back to even and Kraig Chiles putting the Sockers ahead before the end of the third.
Christian Guttierez made sure that the Sockers would not be looking back with his fourth-quarter goal to make it 7-5 San Diego. Baltimore would close the gap a minute later through Oswald Annang, but Boris Pardo and company would keep the door shut, playing great defense late in the game. Brandon Escoto and Juan Manuel Rojo would add insurance goals late in the contest to seal a 9-6 victory for the Sockers on Saturday.
After the game, the Sockers would have to hop into vans and start heading to upstate New York, where they wouldn’t arrive until 3:30 am local time. Minimal time to sleep and recover, San Diego was still raring to go for another battle when they got on the field in Utica.
Early in the first quarter, the Sockers dominated possession, holding the ball for most of the first four minutes of the game. This all led to Gutierrez getting one into the net off a wonderfully played ball by Juan Gonzalez. Joey Tavernese and UCFC would answer back quickly as Tavernese would beat Pardo quite easily and find the goal to tie the game up. On the other end, a little over a minute later, Chiles would put his only shot on target into the back of the net and then leave for the rest of the game with a left leg injury.
Cesar Cerda would double the lead later in the quarter with the Sockers outpacing and playing on the front foot coming out of the blocks in the game. San Diego knew they needed to come out and be aggressive early as they couldn’t be sure if the legs would hold up later on.
Boris Pardo was subbed off after the first, and Xavier Snaer-Williams would take up between the posts. He would be beaten early on as Nate Bordeau turned and fired one low, finding the twine to bring Utica back to down one. Morgan, however, would deny UCFC from tying the game by putting in two goals in two minutes, one on the powerplay, to put the Sockers ahead 5-2 at halftime.
The second half proved what many could have guessed going in. The Sockers would be gassed. Utica came out and put the Sockers on the back foot, but Xavier and crew stood tall. The only leak happened after Bo Jelovac was in the right spot at the right time on a mishandled shot to get UCFC back within two. Gutierrez would answer back before the quarter ended, however, and restore the Sockers lead back to three.
The fourth quarter started with some great possession by San Diego, holding the ball for long stretches and trying to see the game out. The mood would change after the media timeout, however. Xavier would mishit a pass straight into Rafa Godoi and, while chasing the ball back to stop it from going in, would slide into the boards outside the goal and have to leave the game. Godoi would be credited with the goal, but Utica would fire up and put the Sockers under immense pressure.
With Pardo back in, Utica still had a huge hill to climb, but Tim Goldman was able to get UCFC within one with 2:31 left in the game. Utica had great chances, but it was the Sockers defense and Pardo who would stand tall and close out the game, ending with a 6-5 Sockers victory.
Two wins in less than 24 hours in such a physical and demanding sport is nothing short of amazing. To add, keeping a 13 game win streak, extending now to 15 straight, and flying across the country to do so just adds more to the gravity of the achievement.
More achievements are in order to be celebrated; however, as with the win on Sunday, the Sockers clinched the Pacific Division and will now be guaranteed at least the number three seed going into the playoffs. Much will still need to be determined when it comes to home-field advantage in the later rounds, but, for now, the Sockers can get some rest flying back home. When asked about the team’s wins and turnaround, Craig Elsten, Chief Marketing Officer and Play by Play voice of the Sockers, simply said, “Built Different.”
San Diego will be back home on Sunday, March 20th, for a division matchup with rival Tacoma Stars. The kickoff is set for 5:05 pm PST, and tickets are still available. All games can also be seen on the MASLtv YouTube page.