The San Diego Sockers kicked off the new year properly as they came back from 3-0 down to score six unanswered and win the first I-15 Derby of the season, 6-3 over the Ontario Fury.
Led by Tavoy Morgan, Leonardo De Oliveira, and former Fury star Charlie Gonzales, San Diego claimed sole possession of 1st place in the West and stayed undefeated on the season (3-0, 9 points). A huge storyline going into the match was the exclusion of #1 keeper Boris Pardo due to COVID health and safety protocols. The Sockers signed Eduardo “Pollo” Cortes to a 10-day contract earlier this week and, after landing in San Diego the morning of the match, started the match for San Diego against Ontario (2-2, 6 points).
Early on in the 1st quarter, both teams were feeling each other out, akin to the first few rounds of a heavyweight championship boxing match. Neither team wanted to make the first mistake. Unfortunately, San Diego came late in the 1st quarter when Christian Gutierrez slid in late on Ontario’s Justin Stinson to pick up a blue card and give Ontario a 2-minute power play. The Sockers penalty kill was standing stout, with Cortes making two crucial saves to close out the premiere quarter.
Ontario came out with a vengeance and broke the deadlock 14 seconds into the 2nd through Jesus Pacheco, who roofed a shot from a tight angle that flew past Cortes. The rest of the 2nd quarter played out with a frantic pace that was only ever truly slowed by fouls. Even with the feverous pace, there weren’t any true quality chances until nine minutes left in the quarter when Mitchell Cardenas intercepted an errant pass from Stinson meant for Fury talisman Franck Tayou. Cardenas found an outlet in Brandon Escoto, and the Sockers were off to the races with a 3-on-1 opportunity. When it came time to cash in, however, Gutierrez whiffed on the ball passed to him. Cardenas once again intercepted a pass, this time from Chris Toth, the Ontario goalkeeper, and passed it in front of an open goal to Gerardo Jurado who would have his shot blocked by the covering Juan Topete of the Fury.
Late in the 2nd, San Diego earned a free-kick down by the Ontario box when Escoto collected a pass in the corner and was taken down by Robert Palmer. The ensuing free-kick was typical of these Sockers when captain Kraig Chiles stood over the ball, chipped a beautifully weighted pass to Leonardo De Oliveira, who just pushed his volley wide and deflected off Toth. Halftime came with the Sockers bearing down on goal, threatening Toth and the Fury, but finding no luck.
After the break, Ontario came out with purpose and conviction, putting San Diego on the back foot for much of the opening minutes of the 3rd quarter. At times the Sockers could only release the pressure for a few moments before the Fury got straight back onto the ball and into possession. Stinson made the Sockers pay with 11:06 remaining in the 3rd after keeping the pressure on Escoto deep in the Sockers third, picked his pocket, then beautifully turned and fired toward the net onto the unfortunate leg of Cardenas, who deflected the ball into the net for a 2-0 Fury lead. Coach Phil Salvagio called a timeout to help his team collect themselves, but even after that, the Sockers couldn’t do much to release the pressure being put on them. Topete, who blocked an open net shot earlier in the match, got a goal of his own as Pacheco found him just above the red line of the Sockers third and hit a gorgeous shot first time in the top right corner of the net, giving the Fury a 3-0 lead with 9:46 left in the quarter.
Seconds later, after an auspicious save from Cortes, a shot that went between his legs from Tayou, the Sockers pumped up the pressure heavily and got the goal they needed. An errant pass from Stinson went to the waiting feet of Chiles, who found Leonardo “El Mágico” De Oliveira, who did the rest himself, fooling Uzi Tayou and Toth en route to putting a shot in the opposite corner. San Diego made another Fury mistake into a golden opportunity when Topete got dispossessed right at the Ontario red line by Morgan, and he gave Toth no chance to stop the shot. Cortes would make yet another key stop from Tayou with less than 2 minutes left in the 3rd, which would turn out to be crucial as the next attack from the Sockers would see Escoto to Felipe Gonzalez to Chiles put away the game-tying goal with a minute left in the 3rd.
Before entering the 4th and final quarter, things got spicy as Cadenas and Gutierrez got into a bit of an argument after a foul along the boards. This would be the beginning of the increase in physicality of the final quarter. 90 seconds into the quarter, Nestor Hernandez and Pacheco of Ontario both shot wide, and in the ensuing scramble for the ball, Pacheco fouled Escoto into the boards. On the free-kick that followed, Uzi Tayou held onto Morgan for dear life, not only resulting in a blue card but a penalty shootout as well because Morgan was denied a clear goal-scoring opportunity. Charlie Gonzales stepped up and, after missing the initial shot off the post, put the Sockers on top for the first time in the game 4-3. With almost 11 minutes left in the game, after copious amounts of pressure from the Fury, Charlie stole the ball away from Hernandez and, after Hernandez recovered the ball, Thiago Goncalves shoved Charlie down and got himself a yellow for his troubles.
With 5:15 remaining, following a great spell of possession for San Diego, Escoto fed the ball into the corner of the field where Morgan and Uzi Tayou fought for possession. Morgan emerged with the ball, and he passed the ball across the field to Charlie, who had Toth bearing down on him and found a wide-open Escoto for the 5-3 lead. Felipe Gonzalez came up with what appeared to be a possible hamstring injury and left the game with 4:30 left in the game. Ontario would soon put on a 6th attacker, pulling their keeper to have an extra outfield player on the field, but that wouldn’t make much of a difference. With 2:06 remaining in the game, Palmer was given a blue for kicking an already fouled De Oliveira, and Morgan took advantage with 1:09 left on the clock putting in an empty-net goal putting the Sockers up for the final score of 6-3.
— San Diego Sockers (@SanDiegoSockers) January 3, 2022
A fast-paced and thrilling contest ended with an incredible comeback by the Sockers, who ended a three-match regular-season losing streak to the Fury. Going up against four-time MASL MVP Franck Tayou, Guerrero Pino, Mitchell Cardenas, and crew were able to shut him down. “We got good matchups with Pino and Mitchell (against Tayou). They were battling,” coach Salvagio said of the defensive effort. “They (Pino and Cardenas) were big,” goalkeeper Cortes said, who stopped 12 of the 15 shots he faced. “Honestly, they were putting these shots into situations I could manage.
Both of these teams will be meeting each other three more times before the calendar turns to February, to which coach Salvagio, commenting on the physicality, says “It’s only going to get worse.” Next Sunday these two teams will square up again and Ontario will be looking to avenge tonight’s defeat while San Diego will be hoping for more of the same in the results department. Another Sunday evening at the grand ole arena that is Pechanga Arena, watching two bitter rivals battle for supremacy. What a perfect way to end your weekend.
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