San Diego, California
This was not the overconfident and sluggish San Diego Sockers from Thursday. This team that played on Saturday was tenacious and played with a fire in their belly, blowing past the Tacoma Stars 9-3 in game two to force a game three, which they also won 6-2. Eight players scored in game two, including goalkeeper Chris Toth. Game three saw San Diego strike in the first forty seconds, and they wouldn’t look back after.
San Diego came out of the first quarter like a pack of wolves attacking their prey, attacking early and often while keeping a much faster pace than on Thursday. Unlike Thursday, they pulled out the first goal of the game off a reset pass, with Kraig Chiles passing it off to Bradnon Escoto in the corner, and Escoto took care of business, sniping a shot past Danny Waltman for an early goal.
After Tacoma killed off a San Diego power play, the Sockers would get another chance to score, but Felipe Gonzales couldn’t corral the ball and instead smacked it off the board in hopes that another player would take a shot. Matt Clare took him up on the offer, blasting a shot past a slow Waltman.
After misses by Escoto and John Sosa, Escoto would strike with a mere 25 seconds on the clock. After slowing down a bit with the ball, he threaded the needle that was two Stars defenders with a chip shot and arced the ball right over a leaping Waltman. This made the score 3-0 in favor of the home team after one quarter of play.
Tacoma came out firing in the second quarter and came after Toth, but the steadfast keeper made an initial save to keep the Stars off the board. However, Nick Perera utilized some nifty footwork and ground a shot that settled right into the corner of the net for Tacoma’s first goal of the game. Toth would get some revenge of his own after taking the ball out to the Tacoma side of the field. With nobody around him and a clear shooting lane, Toth shrugged and shot his shot, making it in while a stunned Waltman could only look up in amazement as the ball whizzed into the back of the net.
The Sockers were now pumped and full of energy after a string of goals, and it showed in their play, with players like Luan Oliveira showing a particular amount of energy on the field. This led to higher spirits, and it certainly showed after a bending goal by Cesar Cerda gave San Diego a four goal lead, with Cerda pumping his arms in celebration.
Tacoma refused to lay down, though, and continued to fight as Robert Palmer swiped a goal of his own on a reset. However, they wouldn’t score again in the quarter as the score remained 5-2 after two quarters of play.
Much like Thursday, the third quarter was relatively quiet, but Tacoma was able to net an early goal after Jamal Cox was able to catch Toth off guard while the latter was directing his players, with Cox shooting the ball under the legs of the Toth and scoring.
Not much else happened in the quarter. San Diego had a power play after Taylor Walter Bond tripped up Hiram Ruiz, but Tacoma successfully killed it off. The fun would really begin at the end of the quarter after Oliveira kicked the ball out of bounds, giving Tacoma the ball with 0.07 seconds left. Tacoma took a long-distance shot and scored a goal, but it was controversially waved off after a video replay showed the clock striking zero milliseconds before the ball went into the goal. A frustrated Tacoma would settle for a two goal disadvantage after three quarter of play with a score of 5-3.
After the Sockers were given a yellow card penalty for bench misconduct, they would begin a four goal onslaught to bury Tacoma. First up was Brian Farber, who was left all alone in the middle of the box and chipped in an easy goal after taking a pass from Eduardo Velez. Toth would make a save on a ball, snatching the ball in midair while he was on the ground, saving the Sockers from a dangerous position.
Next to score was the tried-and-true combo of Clare and Chiles, with Clare passing it off to Chiles, and the captain would take care of business, scoring on a one on one opportunity. The Sockers piled on two more goals thanks to Ruiz and Erick Tovar, and the Sockers would take game two 9-3. They weren’t done yet, though, and still had to go through with a 15 minute game three.
After a short intermission (and an unsuccessful attempt by Farber to take the PA microphone from the public announcer to give a quick message to the fans) the game three mini-game began. The first goal would be scored 50 seconds into the game after Raymundo Contreras, known more for his wizardry on defense, sniped a ground ball past Waltman for an early lead.
After two players crashed into each other, the ball trickled away and, unfortunately for Tacoma, right near captain Chiles, who shot a beautiful shot that Waltman had no hope of blocking. It was desperation time for Tacoma and they began to play with more physicality than before, but all it led to was Hiram Ruiz getting wide open to score another goal. Tacoma would begin to use the sixth attacker, but left the net wide open for Cerda to take a potshot towards the goal, and the ball would roll its way in to give San Diego a 4-0 lead.
After Ruiz got taken down to the floor, he immediately questioned the referees as to why there was no call. He argued a little too much, however, and earned not one, but two yellow cards that effectively took him out of the game. Tovar would pick up the slack and get the fifth goal for the Sockers, and also took a cleat to the chest from Waltman after the latter slid to try to save the goal, but no harsh words were exchanged and the players acted like true professionals as it was accidental.
Even though Tacoma would score on a Phillip Lund kick, their fate was all but sealed after Farber tapped the ball into an open net backwards for a goal (getting some style points at the same time). Tacoma would score with three seconds remaining, but the chances of coming back from a four-goal deficit with three seconds in the game are about as reasonable as a man winning the lottery three times in one day, and Tacoma lost their shot for the playoffs and were eliminated by San Diego 6-2.
Ruiz said “We knew this was a game we had to win”, and said the team “dropped their guard” on Thursday, while Toth said that a big difference was playing at home and felt his defense wasn’t “on point” and said that “being at home and being down in the series really brought the best of us”. He laughed when asked about his goal, saying that he “was looking to pass first…so I just smiled and I hit it”. Chiles was happy about his team’s ferocity and how his team “brought the intensity and bring the urgency and the fighting battle”, and about the home field advantage “with the crowd and the surface and the field dimensions”.
San Diego will face either Monterrey or Sonora in the one-game Western Conference Final. If Monterrey beats Sonora tomorrow, the Sockers will travel to Mexico for a game on Sunday. If Sonora can win game two and the mini-game on the road, San Diego will host the Conference Final on Thursday at Valley View Casino Center.