San Diego Sockers Finals Game 1 Match Preview
The San Diego Sockers-presented by Kaiser Permanente San Diego-take on the Ontario Fury in Game One of the 2021 Ron Newman Cup Finals, with kickoff scheduled for 7:05pm PDT at Toyota Arena in Ontario, California. The best-of-three series will continue with Game Two on Sunday, April 18 at 3:05pm PDT. If the series is tied 1-1 at the conclusion of Game Two, Game Three-a 15-minute mini-game-will take place approximately 30 minutes later. The winner of the series is the Major Arena Soccer League champion for 2021. All the matches are streaming for free at [facebook.com] on the Major Arena Soccer League home page.
For both the Sockers and the Fury, this is their first trip to the MASL Ron Newman Cup Finals. The Sockers, however, have twice held the Ron Newman Cup, which was named as the PASL championship trophy in 2011 prior to the merger of the PASL and MISL in 2014. The Fury are appearing in their first-ever championship series. The fourteen-time indoor champion Sockers have not won a title since securing four consecutive championships between 2010-13.
The 2021 MASL season has been the most unusual in the league's history, as only seven of 17 clubs chose to participate due to the ongoing COVID pandemic. Of those seven, the Sockers, Tacoma Stars and Fury initially opted in knowing they would be unable to host home games. Ontario gained the opportunity to begin playing at home in March, while the Sockers have spent the entire season and postseason as road-only participants.
The Sockers were battered by COVID early in the season, and lost their footing midway through the shortened campaign, losing four straight matches. A regular season-ending win over Dallas lifted San Diego to a final record of 4-6, good for fifth place in the seven-team table. The Sockers have been a different team in the playoffs, gutting out a perfect 4-0 record to reach the Finals, with series victories over Tacoma and the #1 seeded Florida Tropics. San Diego won their first three playoff games in overtime; the fourth wasn't decided until the final second.
The Fury took a different path to the Ron Newman Cup Finals, bursting out of the gates to a 4-0 record before going 3-3 the rest of the regular season, finishing with a 7-3 record and the second seed in the playoffs. Ontario had the opportunity to select #7 seed Dallas for their opening-round series and defeated them 2-0, then battled the #3 seed Kansas City Comets over three games, prevailing 8-7 in double OT in Game One, losing Game Two 7-6 in OT, then prevailing 2-1 in the mini-game.
The Ron Newman Cup Finals should provide a study in contrast when it comes to the styles of the two participating clubs. The Sockers have been the top defensive team in the MASL, allowing only 17 goals in four playoff games, and 60 total in fourteen combined matches (4.29 per match). Ontario is a high-octane offensive unit that likes to attack out of a full-field press and in transition. The Fury have averaged 7 goals a game from the regular season through the playoffs.
While the Sockers have historically dominated the Fury, with an all-time head-to-head record of 17-5, Ontario has won the last three matches consecutively, by an aggregate score of 18-8. Prior to the Fury's hot streak, San Diego had beaten Ontario ten consecutive times. This will be the second-ever playoff meeting between the Sockers and Fury. In 2016-17, San Diego and Ontario split their first two games in the Pacific Division Finals, with the Sockers prevailing 1-0 in the mini-game to take the series.
Road to the Finals
The Sockers have taken the road less traveled to reach the Ron Newman Cup Finals, with a perfect record that required a lot of struggle along the way. San Diego faced Tacoma in the opening round of the playoffs, a neutral-site series played in Ontario. The Sockers edged the Stars by identical scores of 6-5 (OT) in both matches. In the second round, the #1 seed Florida Tropics had their pick of the field and selected San Diego as their opponent for a neutral-site series, this time held in Kansas City, MO. In Game One, up 3-1 after three quarters, the Sockers saw Florida rally for three straight goals and the lead. Tavoy Morgan netted with six attackers at 13:22 of the fourth to tie the match, and Brian Farber's golden goal at 7:57 of overtime won it 5-4. In Game Two, the Sockers never trailed, building another 3-1 lead before seeing it dissipate in the fourth quarter once again. Ian Bennett scored with six attackers to tie the match 3-3 at 12:45, but Christian Gutierrez' goal at 13:16 was the series winner, with San Diego holding on for a 4-3 win and a 2-0 series edge.
Sockers midfielder Christian Gutierrez struggled to score goals earlier in his San Diego career, but has picked the best possible time for a clutch awakening. Gutierrez has contributed to all four of the Sockers' game-winning goals in the Ron Newman Cup Playoffs, scoring three and assisting on the other. Gutierrez ended Game One in overtime against the Tacoma Stars with a full-field counter attack goal, on an assist from Leonardo de Oliveira. When Game Two between Tacoma and San Diego went to overtime, it was Gutierrez again with the golden goal, this time on a re-direction of a direct kick. Against Florida, Gutierrez assisted on Brian Farber's golden goal in Game One, then scored the game-winner with 1:48 remaining in Game Two. A former 50-goal scorer in the MASL, Gutierrez had only 17 goals in three seasons with San Diego prior to the playoffs.
The Chicken is Loose
Sockers midfielder Hiram "Pollo" Ruiz, who did not score a goal during the regular season, has exploded to lead the Sockers in playoff goals, netting five in four playoff matches. Ruiz is tied for the club playoff lead with (5-1=6) points. The outburst included a natural hat trick in Game Two against the Stars, in which "Pollo" personally turned a 2-0 deficit into a 3-2 lead. Pollo added a goal and the assist on the game-tying goal on Thuesday. Ruiz was part of the 2019 WMF World Cup champion Team Mexico, scoring a goal in Mexico's 4-0 Grand Final win over Brazil in Perth, Australia. He previously competed in the Ron Newman Cup Finals with Soles de Sonora, losing to Baltimore in 2016 and 2017.
All-MASL for Cerda
The MASL announced their end-of-season honors last week, with defender Cesar Cerda being the lone Sockers player named to the all-MASL First Team. A rugged man-marker who is asked to take on the opponent's top forward every match, Cerda also finished third on the Sockers in regular season scoring with (6-3=9) points in nine matches. Cerda has added a goal and assist to the playoff pursuit. Four Sockers were named all-MASL Honorable Mention: Boris Pardo, Brandon Escoto, Leonardo de Oliveira and Marcio Leite.
Power Play Popping
Thanks to a late surge, the Sockers led the MASL in power play efficiency during the 2021 regular season, finishing 7-for-17 on the man advantage (41.2%). San Diego has kept up the pressure in the playoffs, converting on 4-of-6 power plays (67%). Tavoy Morgan has helped power the resurgence, scoring three power play goals in his seven games with the club. The Sockers are 2-for-4 on the penalty kill (50%). In the Ron Newman Cup playoffs, the Fury are 3-for-8 on the power play (37.5%) and have allowed five power play goals in nine chances (44%).
Peanut Butter & Chocolate :: Pardo & Vanzela
The San Diego goalkeeping duo of Boris Pardo and William Vanzela has turned into an iconic combination during the 2021 COVID-influenced MASL season. Vanzela and Pardo ranked 1-2 in both goals-against average and save percentage during the regular season. Pardo (359 minutes played) posted a 4.17 GAA and .737 save percentage, while Vanzela (238 minutes) led the MASL with a 4.03 GAA and .761 SV%. Pardo started Game One against Tacoma, stopping back-to-back shots in the sixth minute of sudden death (9/14 saves total), while Vanzela got the call for Game Two, stopping 12/17 shots. Pardo got the call in Game One against Florida and delivered another win, stopping 7/11 shots, including a point-blank chance in the final second of regulation. Vanzela kept up the momentum, stopping 18/21 shots in the Game Two win over Florida.
Team's leading goal scorer in the regular season (11) tied for the team lead in playoff points with (3-3=6) in four matches.
Leonardo de Oliveira
Former Fury led San Diego with (7-8=15) points in regular season; has (1-3=4) points in the playoffs.
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