MASL soccer Pechanga Arena
San Diego Socker Cesar Cerda during Saturday’s match in Mesquite, before the fireworks started. Photo credit:

The San Diego Sockers are set for a showdown this weekend in Mexico, where they not only will be short-handed, but also fighting for sole possession of first place.

The second-place Chihuahua Savage (11-3-1, 32 points), three points behind San Diego (12-2, 35 points) in the MASL Western Division standings, lost a match Sunday in Tacoma in which a regulation win would have pulled them even at 35 points.

The two teams meet Friday for the final time this season in Mexico, where the Savage are 14-1-3 all-time. 

The Sockers’ six-match road trip – which has included two losses, the first of which ended multiple San Diego winning streaks – includes back-to-back matches in Mexico, as the Sockers follow the Chihuahua contest with a Sunday game in Monterrey (7-5-2, 20 points).

The Sockers incurred one loss this weekend, and what happened after the game added to their burdens.

Sebastian Mendez scored a pair of goals, a Sockers fourth-quarter go-ahead score was reversed on replay, and the Mesquite Outlaws held on for a 6-5 win Saturday, leaving San Diego at 2-2 on the road trip. But the match was marred by a heated argument after the final whistle.

It began with Mesquite’s Pablo de Silva challenging San Diego’s Tavoy Morgan near the benches and saw both teams clash, including coaches and staff.

The Sockers’ Gerardo Jurado was shown a red card. Moments later, a Mesquite staffer grabbed and tried to restrain the Sockers’ Mitchell Cardenas, and wound up on the ground in a scrum.

The league will review footage of the fracas to determine next steps. MASL Commissioner Keith Tozer issued a statement noting the multiple altercations after the Sockers-Outlaws match.

“The incident is under review with MASL’s Discipline Review Committee (DRC). Once the investigation is complete, appropriate penalties, including potential fines and suspensions, will be announced,” he said.

The Sockers’ recent rocky run has had a common thread – poor second-half performances. San Diego has been outscored 14-7 in the second halves of the four matches on the road trip, including 4-3 on Saturday in Mesquite.  

Their other loss on the trip – a 10-4 setback on Feb. 8 against the Empire Strykers (11-5-1, 32 points) – closed a remarkable run.

The defeat halted five different winning streaks at once. The Sockers had won 10 straight on the season, 14 straight dating back to last season’s playoffs, 17 straight on the road and 30 in a row in the MASL regular season. They also had a point streak of 51 straight games (47-0-4).

On Saturday, the Outlaws (10-3-2, 30 points) scored the first two goals of the second half, quickly turning a tie at halftime into a 4-2 lead.

The Sockers answered and for a moment seemed to have the match in their grasp.

Ismael Rojo and Felipe Gonzalez connected on a header-to-header goal at 14:07 of the third quarter, ending a 59-minute third-quarter scoreless streak. Leonardo de Oliveira tied the game at 1:13 of the fourth quarter, and as he celebrated, Mesquite perhaps showed a sign of tensions to come.

Keeper Eduardo “Pollo” Cortes punted the ball out of play for a yellow card and had to sit in the penalty box for five minutes plus the next dead ball whistle.

With a chance to rally against Cortes’ backup, Juan Lujano, de Oliveira slammed home a rebound shot one minute later, giving the Sockers a 5-4 lead. Then, Mesquite’s coach, known simply as Tatu, threw his challenge flag, asserting a foul occurred during the build-up toward the goal.

The referees agreed after a video review, issuing a common foul to Charlie Gonzalez at midfield several seconds before the goal, wiping out the score. 

With Mesquite on the attack, Rojo was called for a foul along the wall for contact on the Outlaws’ David Ortiz. The Sockers protested to the ref, and Ortiz took advantage, spotting the ball for the restart and sending it quickly to Mendez for an easy goal and a 5-4 lead. 

Lucas Ramalho touched home the rebound of an Outlaws shot to make it 6-4 at 6:12. Christian Gutierrez got one back on a wall assist from Luis “Peewee” Ortega at 7:12 to narrow the gap, and the Sockers went to a sixth attacker in the final 2:51, but were unable to generate even another shot on goal.

A last-second empty netter was waved off for scoring just after the whistle, and then quickly forgotten in the skirmishes that followed.