Felipe Gonzalez’s header goal 12:41 into the third quarter gave the Sockers the lead for good before 2,271 at Pechanga Arena, on the way to a 6-2 win in the full 60-minute Game 2.
The victory clinched their spot in the deciding knockout game – 15 minutes played 15 minutes after the end of Game 2 – and the Sockers again prevailed, this time 4-1. Christian Gutierrez scored a goal and added two assists and Juan Manuel Rojo had two late goals.
With the wins, the Sockers will again contend for MASL’s Ron Newman Cup. They will face, appropriately, the Florida Tropics. San Diego and Florida were top teams this season, battling it out until the final week of the regular season for the best record, with the Sockers prevailing.
The two-game series – again, with an extra-time game if needed – opens on the road in Lakeland, Fla. either Friday or May 1, to be determined by the league.
San Diego defeated Ontario to claim the 2021 championship.
Head coaches Phil Salvagio of the Sockers and Luis Jaime Borrego of the Savage engaged in a heartfelt hug after the decisive semifinal match Sunday.
“Chihuahua’s a fantastic team. That was a great series. You can’t get closer and better than those three games were. It’s live or die,” Salvagio said.
The Sockers moved on thanks to their defense and all-MASL goalkeeper Boris Pardo, who stopped six of eight shots in Game 2 and added three saves on four shots in the shortened match.
“After the game we lost in Chihuahua, we knew we would have to take care of business in the first game (tonight),” Pardo said. “We knew it would be a different game on the bigger field here. The boys showed a lot of character in the locker room to stay calm and just work out the things that we needed to do.”
The Sockers led 2-0 at halftime in Game 2 thanks to goals by Charlie Gonzalez and Luis Ortega. The Savage had extended possessions, but came up empty.
In the third quarter, though, Bryan Aguilar and Carlos Hernandez broke through for Chihuahua to tie the match. Then Felipe Gonzalez came up big, running parallel to the goal across the crease and leaping to head the cross into the net. The score put San Diego ahead 3-2, a lead they would protect into the fourth quarter.
Kraig Chiles, San Diego’s all-time leading scorer, had a leaping shot at a sharp angle from the inside of his left foot at 7:03 of the fourth quarter to put the Sockers ahead 4-2. Gutierrez and Tavoy Morgan netted at 13:19 and 13:39 respectively to ensure the Sockers forced the deciding shorter “knockout game.”
The Sockers scored first when Gutierrez contorted to rifle a shot home for a 1-0 lead at 3:05. Jorge Rios, the Savage’ leading scorer in the regular season, answered with his only goal of the series at 4:03 to make it 1-1.
The evening, however, was not without controversy. With Chihuahua’s Enrique Cañez alone on net, Pardo came out to his red line to challenge, and leaped to deter Cañez’s chip shot attempt.
The ball was blocked and pinned off the line by San Diego’s Guerrero Pino, while the Savage bench screamed for a deliberate handball, which would have resulted in a shootout and power play.
Play continued live for over a minute and the Sockers pounced for the game-winning goal, as defender Cesar Cerda fed Brandon Escoto from the low-left wing at 9:28.
Borrego then jumped on the field – earning a yellow card – to throw his challenge flag, looking for a call against Pardo. MASL director of officials Ryan Cigich, the lead referee for the match, went to video replay, and determined that Pardo hadn’t made contact with the ball, ensuring that the goal that followed counted.
“I never touched it,” Pardo agreed later.
Chihuahua pulled their keeper Berna Valdovinos forward to join the attack, but San Diego’s counter propelled the club as Gutierrez and Rojo combined on a pair of goals at 13:43 and 14:35, sealing the victory.
The Sockers will host Game 2 of the finals at Pechanga at 5:05 p.m. May 8. Tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. Monday online or at 866-799-4625.