Pechanga Arena- San Diego, Ca.
Optimism was high for the San Diego Sockers as they arrived at Pechanga Arena for their season debut against the Rio Grande Valley Barracudas. A long offseason was finally over and the players were itching to kick the season off in some stylish new uniforms.
Before the game began, the Sockers paid their respects to the late Ron Newman, the legendary Sockers coach who helped build a dynasty. After a video tribute, Newman’s son and former Socker Guy Newman said a few words and received a framed picture of Newman with all of the championship trophies he had won with the team.
After the tribute, it was time to being the season. Try as they might, the Sockers couldn’t seem to find the back of the net. Brian Farber and Kraig Chiles both had opportunities early in the quarter, but their shots either went wide or were blocked by Rio Grande Valley keeper Fidel Garcia. However, the defense kept the Barracudas in check, only allowing only one shot on goal.
Despite two Rio Grande Valley blue cards gifting San Diego with power plays, the Sockers couldn’t capitalize on the opportunity. Brandon Escoto and Christian Gutierrez both had a shot on goal, but both shots would slam into the top of the crossbar. Chalk it up to Rio Grande Valley playing tough defense, repelling the Sockers at every turn.
As the Sockers had only played in one preseason game and had only played at training camps, the team may have had some first-game jitters, evidenced by their shooting game. Too many times, a ball would hit off the crossbar or miss it’s mark completely, even when a player was directly in front of the goal or had just one man to beat.
Evidently, the team discussed this during halftime, as they came out firing in the third quarter. Scoring the first goal of the season, as well as his first goal as a Socker, was Christian Gutierrez, who curled a shot from the red line past Garcia for the goal. On the goal, Garcia said “We tried and tried to score a goal… the ball got to me, I got the right angle, I took the shot and scored the goal,” while promising to score more goals in the future for the Sockers.
Captain Chiles would chip his first goal of the season in on a deke move during a top-of-the-box shot opportunity, hesitating before his shot before rocketing the ball past the wall of defenders and into the back of the net. The hesitation is an old classic of Chiles and is a move that he can perform with zen-like control.
Despite the Barracudas ramping up their offense, it didn’t stop Rio Grande Valley’s Moises Gonzales from getting called for a tripping penalty and sending him to the penalty box for two minutes. On the ensuing power play, Gutierrez doubled down on the offense by chipping in his second goal of the match, making the score 3-0 at the end of the third.
The fourth quarter opened up with Rio Grande Valley’s Erick Jhon Ponce poking a goal through past a diving Boris Pardo to put the Barracudas on the board. Unfortunately, this is when the defense started to get very sloppy for the Sockers, as two goals were quickly scored by Rio Grande Valley due to an attacker not getting picked up by the Sockers’ defense. The Sockers would mount one last comeback to try and regain the lead, but said attempt was unsuccessful as the game went into a “Golden Goal” overtime.
Golden goal overtime is very simple; both teams get 15 minutes and whoever scores first wins. The Barracudas attacked with a hunger they hadn’t shown in the game, keeping the Sockers on the back foot for much of the period. Farber managed to get away with the ball and, seeing an opportunity, passed the ball off the wall to Leonardo De Oliviera, who collected the ball and righted himself before rocketing the golden goal past Garcia for the win.
A collective cheer arose in Pechanga Arena as De Oliviera was hailed as a hero by his teammates, but the coaches may have been exhaling. Despite sloppy defense and an offense that whiffed on numerous opportunities, the Sockers started the season with a win.
The Sockers play their first road game of the season on Thursday, December 20, 7:00 p.m at Ontario, before returning home to play Tacoma on Saturday, December 22 at 7:05 p.m., at Pechanga Arena San Diego.