After a visit to the conference finals last season, only to be ousted by the Monterrey Flash, the Sockers come into this season with new players, a new logo, and the same desire to bring a championship to San Diego. San Diego will be one of the last MASL teams to make their season debut as the indoor soccer season is already two weeks old.
San Diego already has one preseason game under their belt, with a 5-3 victory over the Dallas Sidekicks. They hope to continue this success with Boris Pardo taking over in goal and captain Kraig Chiles ready to lead the team to another successful run in their 40th anniversary.
However, this 40th anniversary will come with a heavy heart, as legendary Sockers head coach Ron Newman passed away in August of this year. The Sockers seek to honor his memory by bringing home the championship cup that is named in his honor for the 15th time in their storied history.
Change of the guard
The Sockers made doozy trades and moves in the offseason that saw many a player swap jerseys in exchange for new ones. Anthony Medina has retired from the team, Luan Oliveira has returned to Milwaukee, and John Sosa and Max Toulette signed with the Kansas City Comets and Florida Tropics, respectively. Each player played a key role with the Sockers, but none were more crucial than the departures of Matt Clare and Chris Toth.
Clare was one of the top goal scorers for the Sockers, scoring 16 goals and tacking on 12 assists while flanking Chiles as one of the best offensive duos in the league. However, he was traded to the Tacoma Stars in a three-team trade that brought Guerrero Pina to the team. The loss of two-time MASL Goalkeeper of the Year Chris Toth could prove to be even more damaging for the Sockers. Toth split the season in the goal with Pardo and collected a .753 save percentage in the box, but he was traded to their inter-division rivals, the Ontario Fury, in November.
New kids on the block
Of course, with all of the turnover, the team signed new players to fill their spots. Taylor James Bond was signed from Tacoma to bolster the offense, as well as high scoring shooter Christian Guiterrez from El Paso. Christian Segura, a veteran of four years who has scored 92 total points in only 67 games, was added from Sonora. Reinforcing the defense is Manuel Rojo, who earned a spot on the 2016-2017 All- MASL Rookie Team. Late pickup Travis Pittman (formerly of the Baltimore Blast) returns to the indoor league after a brief stay in outdoor soccer, and will most likely come off the bench in a crunch to give San Diego some extra firepower.
Not only active in the free agent market, the Sockers made key trades to bolster its overall depth. In the three-team trade that saw Clare go to Tacoma, the Sockers received a dual-threat midfielder, Guerrero Pina, who blocked 23 shots on defense for Kansas City while scoring 22 goals. The Toth trade netted Leonardo de Oliveira, who Sockers general manager Sean Bowers praised as an “exceptional scoring talent”, as well as the savvy veteran Juan Gonzales.
Speaking to Bond, he said that it was “easy to adjust and jump in with these guys” and said it would be fun working with some of the new players that he has seen around the league. Midfielder Brian Farber stated that he is impressed by “the [players] ability to get to know each other… you need to learn to adjust to what the newness is to you, and I think the guys have taken everything that we’re doing here in San Diego and took it into their game”.
The old stalwarts
Don’t count out the old guard from last year, though. Leading the team is team captain Chiles, while Brandon Escoto is the dynamo who can flash talent and highlights that are worthy of a spot on ESPN’s Top 10 plays. Farber and Hiram Ruiz will provide assistance from both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball, but the defense is led by veteran Ray Contreras. Cesar Cerda and Luis “Pee Wee” Ortega will add to what should be one of the most cohesive defensive units in the MASL.
The returning players will look to integrate the new guys into their style of passing and offensive attack, but the pressure will be on the 14-time champs to return to their former glory. After losing to the Flash in the playoffs, both veterans and newcomers will look to act as one cohesive unit, but they have admitted that it is tough to get into game mode in the span of only one preseason game. In an interview for the team, Chiles admitted that “training is getting a little redundant and we are ready to play”.
Despite the eagerness to play, the team chemistry is still high during training camp. Players can be seen playing practice games and cracking jokes with each other, like how Raymundo Reza swiped a massage tool and applied it to Farber’s hamstring, lightheartedly calling out to the trainer that he would “undercut the market” on message therapy. Chiles said that the team is “ready to get on in front of our fans and showcase ourselves” with Farber echoing that sentiment, saying that “we’re kicking ourselves every day and now it’s time to go out and fight for each other”.
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