Pechanga Arena- San Diego, California
It was perhaps the biggest free agent signing in San Diego Sockers history, and the day for his debut had finally come. As public address announcer Callan McClurg announced Landon Donavan’s name in the lineup, the franchise-record 8,492 fans at Pechanga Arena made him feel welcome.
“It’s fantastic,” said goalkeeper Boris Pardo, “An atmosphere like this every game? It brings so much great attention to the game, to the city, to the league… you feel that energy.”
San Diego started the game without their captain, Kraig Chiles, as the forward had suffered a hamstring injury during last week’s match against the Ontario Fury and sat out today’s game. The offense, however, rolled on all cylinders even without the forward. Tacoma’s defense, on the other hand, was bending but not breaking.
Tacoma’s defense finally broke thanks to Brian Farber. The striker had to stretch for a ball that was headed towards the box by Taylor Bond, but Farber was able to toe-poke the ball past a sprawling Sanaldo Carvalho to give San Diego the lead. After the game, Farber explained that “There was a free kick outside the red line and Ray (Contreras) was going to serve it back post… Taylor served me a perfect ball, I snuck in there, got my toe on it, and put it away.”
The 1-0 lead didn’t last long, thanks to some stealthy offense by the Stars. Derek Johnson, grappling with a Sockers defender, shot the ball off the boards to Phillip Lund. With Lund behind Pardo, he had no trouble placing the ball in the back of the net to tie the game.
A four-goal second quarter immediately thrust the Sockers ahead. First, Cesar Cerda shot a laser beam past Carvalho to retake the lead for San Diego. Then it was Juan Gonzales who, after receiving a pass from Bond, merrily chipped in his first goal of the night. Continuing the downpour was Guerrero Pino, stealing the ball from a Tacoma player, sprinting down the field like a madman and hitting a shot with sniper-like accuracy into the bottom right of the box.
With Tacoma player-coach Nick Perera picking up personal fouls like no one’s business, it was only a matter of time that he picked his fourth personal foul, resulting in a blue card and two minutes in the penalty box. San Diego only needed seconds to score, with Donovan passing to Brandon Escoto in the corner of the box and Escoto taking care of business, tallying his 18th goal of the season.
With the score 5-1 at halftime, San Diego put their foot off the gas pedal in the second half. This decision proved costly, as Tacoma sprung back to life with two Perera goals in the third quarter, whose ice-cold demeanor and play helped revitalize his squad. The Sockers hadn’t completely lost their will to fight as Travis Pittman balanced out the goals with a score of his own.
Despite a final push from the Stars, including a goal in the second minute from Tacoma’s Troy Peterson, the Sockers’ defense stood tall and fended off the final attacks from Tacoma to win their eleventh straight game and their first with Donovan in tow.
“It’s fun to go in there… it’s one thing to practice but it’s another thing to go out there in a game, but I had fun,” Donovan told the media after the game. His presence was certainly fun for the fans, who came out in spades to support Donovan. The line to get in the game stretched around the gates of Pechanga Arena and into the parking lot.
The Sockers finish their two-game series against the Tacoma Stars on Sunday, but this time on Tacoma’s home turf. It is likely that Chiles and Donovan won’t be making the journey up, but the Sockers will also be without Farber, who went down in the fourth quarter. “Little hamstring issue… I’ll be taking care of it for a couple days.”