Trailing the Florida Tropics by one with time ebbing away, the San Diego Sockers rallied from a 3-2 deficit Monday to take the opener of the Ron Newman Cup Finals 6-3.
Kraig Chiles tied the game and assisted on the game-winner as the Sockers scored four unanswered goals in the final quarter at RP Funding Center in Lakeland, outside Tampa.
Tavoy Morgan added two goals and Charlie Gonzalez had three assists, as San Diego, up 1-0 in the best-of-three series, moved a step closer to repeating as MASL champs. The finals head back to Pechanga Arena for Game Two (and Game 3, a 15-minute knockout game, to immediately follow if necessary) at 5:05 p.m. Sunday.
“We just stay focused,” said Chiles of the club’s grace under pressure, “We missed a few opportunities in the first half, but we knew if we stayed at it and stayed focused, we would break the seal.”
The Sockers had nursed a 2-1 halftime lead through a scoreless third quarter, but things changed fast in the fourth.
Florida’s Zach Reget netted back-to-back goals at 1:08 and 5:00 to give the Tropics the 3-2 lead, delighting a crowd of 2,244. But just 24 seconds later, Gonzalez lead a counterattack, feeding Chiles in the middle to tie the match.
When Florida was called for a foul outside their box and turned to complain to the officials, Chiles, on a quick restart, spotted Brandon Escoto on the back post for a tap-in goal at 6:19 for a 4-3 advantage.
Earlier, San Diego had outshot Florida 28-20 and built a 2-1 lead on a pair of goals from Morgan, who scored in each of the first two quarters.
“Everybody gave 110 percent,” said Morgan, “The flow was good for us. We know defense wins games, and we stuck together in that third and fourth quarter and came out victorious.”
Cesar Cerda and Guerrero Pino scored into an empty net after the Tropics pulled their keeper with under three minutes remaining. San Diego was credited with nine blocked shots.
A relieved Gonzalez reflected on the club’s character after the match.
“Kraig stepped up like he always does, and so did ‘Churras’ (Escoto),” said Gonzalez, “That’s what this team is really good at.”
Unsung for the Sockers all season – the defensive back line. Pino and Mitchell Cardenas traded as on-ball defenders, while Cerda, Juan Manuel Rojo and Luis Ortega worked off the ball, blocked shots and challenged the midfield. Pardo had nothing but praise for them.
“All the credit to our defenders, those guys held it down, and Peewee (Ortega) did the dirty work,” said Pardo, “I think the playoff MVP is the entire back line.”
If the Sockers win, they will hoist their 16th professional indoor banner. The MASL Ron Newman Cup is named for the storied former Sockers manager. Morgan is calling for San Diego fans to step up and show their support.
“It’s going to be a good one, and we want to come out on top to win a championship,” the forward said.
Tickets for Sunday’s Game Two are available online or by phone at (866) 799-GOAL.