Pechanga Arena- San Diego, California
On the eastern part of Pechanga Arena, there hang banners representing all of the players who have had their jersey numbers retired by the team. Such players who have their numbers up on the rafter include legendary goalkeeper Zoltan Toth and Juli “Double-deuce, triple-E” Veee. And now, one more joins their ranks.
Paul “P3” Wright, the speedy midfielder who helped lead San Diego to seven championships, saw his number retired in a pregame ceremony, with his number 3 banner unfurling next to Kaz Deyna’s number 10 banner. “This is the biggest achievement of my Sockers career,” said Wright during the ceremony, “From the moment I stepped on this field, it felt like home, so I made it my house.”
“It’s a fantastic achievement.” said captain Kraig Chiles who played, starting from 2003, played three seasons with Wright on the Sockers. “He taught me a lot about the game in my first three seasons… it’s fantastic seeing him get what he deserves.”
The Sockers, wearing throwback”Kicking K” uniforms, looked to honor their legends by replicating the same fast-paced offense that won the franchise so many rings. But Rio Grande Valley was looking to spoil the party as, after 17 minutes of scoreless soccer, Moises Gonzales broke the tie with a goal off of a set piece in the second quarter.
After the second goal of the quarter scored by Diego Zunica, the Sockers went into their lockers down by a score of 2-0 at the halftime. Halftime saw the fans get treated to a 12 minute, 10-versus-10 match of former Sockers players from the 2000s squad, including current General Manager Sean Bowers, take on former Sockers players from the 1980s and 1990s squads.
The third quarter saw the dry spell continue for the Sockers, as they couldn’t crack the code that was Rio Grande Valley’s defense, but the Sockers’ lack of offense didn’t stop the Barracudas from tacking on another goal on another Gonzales stinger in the sixth minute of the quarter.
Come the fourth quarter; something changed in San Diego’s offense. Maybe it was desperation. Perhaps they didn’t want to get shutout on such an important game. But whatever it was, the offense looked like an animal that had just been released from its cage. An animal that was hungry for goals. Pechanga Arena erupted when Christian Gutierrez snapped the scoreless streak with a power play goal; then Chiles came after with a strike that sailed past Diego Angel Arriaga and into the net. Just like that, the Sockers were down by two.
Not even Gonzales’ third goal, which secured a hat trick, couldn’t stop the Sockers offensive attack. An unsuspecting Barracuda defender wasn’t paying attention, leading to Brian Farber dive bombing the defender, pilfering the ball and hammering it past Angel Arriaga to bring San Diego ever closer.
It is important to note that, in the fourth quarter, Rio Grande Valley picked up four blue card penalties in the fourth quarter. One such blue card was awarded to Mitchell Cardenas, who all but dragged Taylor Bond to the ground in the Barracudas’ box. Such a play quickly earned Cardenas a trip to the penalty box and gave a penalty kick to San Diego. The veteran Chiles is money and situations such as these and cashed in for the goal to tie the game.
With Pechanga Arena as loud as it has been all season, the Sockers were ready to steal the win. But, Erick Jhon Prince drove a dagger into San Diego’s backs by poking a header goal past Boris Pardo to put the Barracudas ahead. Goals like that are meant to be rally killers and send teams emotionally spiraling en route to a loss. Nobody gave Chiles the memo on the latter statement.
Rallying around an injury scare to Pardo and with a two-man advantage, after blue cards sent Genoni Martinez and Gustavo Rosales to time out in the penalty box, Chile wasted no time securing his hat trick, hitting a shot that crossed up Angel Arriaga and tied the game.
On what changed going into the fourth quarter, Chiles said that “Our intensity, our mentality, and our energy are the three things. A lot of times when your brain is turned on, your legs follow… it took us a while to get our brain on, but we got the job done.”
Going into overtime, the rules are simple; score and you win. With three minutes before overtime, both teams strategized on how to come away with the win. Rio Grande Valley didn’t plan on covering Brandon Escoto, as they left the strike wide open with a clear shooting lane. Taking the chance, Escoto booted a shot that was just out of the reach of the Barracudas’ goalie, and Pechanga Arena exploded in cheers as Escoto and crew celebrated the overtime goal.
“I started and finished the play,” said an exuberant Escoto, “What’s important is staying in your position and watching the play develop.”
The golden goal gave the Sockers their 20th win in a row but, more importantly, got them the best record in the MASL. The reward for the best record in the MASL will be home field advantage throughout the playoffs on San Diego’s quest to hoist the Ron Newman Cup.