While Club Tijuana Xoloitzcuintles de Caliente (Xolos, for short) may have captured the fancy of the international border region's outdoor soccer fans, the indoor game, which also maintains a pan-border presence, is also making headlines.
The San Diego Sockers defeated the Detroit Waza Flo, 8-6, Monday night at the Valley View Casino Center to capture the 2012-13 Professional Arena Soccer League Professional Division championship in the finals of the Ron Newman Cup.
It was the 14th indoor soccer championship for the Sockers franchise and fourth consecutive for the current club, which resumed play in 2009.
The Sockers dynasty continues to wax with a final 19-2 record this season.
Monday's PASL-Pro championship game was a rematch of this year's U.S. Open Cup for Arena Soccer played two weekends ago in Detroit when the host Waza edged the Sockers 7-6.
Last year's PASL-Pro final ended with a 10-7 San Diego victory.
Clearly, the competition has caught up to the Sockers as the fledgling PASL-Pro begins to mature.
That was squarely evidenced in Monday's increasingly physical encounter in front of 3,336 boisterous fans.
Blast from the past
It seemed only appropriate that in his last game as a San Diego Socker that Grossmont High School alumnus Paul Wright, the team’s ageless veteran, would score the team’s opening goal in its latest major indoor soccer championship.
“This has got to be the best feeling,” said Wright, 43, amid post-game hoopla. “I’ve worked hard for this all year. I wanted to go out a winner and my teammates came through for me. I got the spark going and they finished it. I don’t think I’ve ever felt as great as I do now.”
The indoor soccer championship was the seventh for Wright, who owns the distinction of having suited up for all three incarnations of the Sockers during his 26-year playing career.
The 1986 GHS grad won three Major Indoor Soccer League championships (1990-92) with the original Sockers (1978-96) and also played for the second edition of the team in the MISL II (2002-05).
He won two PASL titles with the current Sockers before rejoining the team this season to end his career.
Wright’s speed and field vision have always been his best playing attributes.
His goal, a vintage soft touch shot to the inside post off a sprint with 2:05 elapsed in the second quarter, tied Monday’s PASL-Pro championship game at a goal apiece after the Waza Flo had taken a 1-0 lead in the opening quarter.
Valhalla High School graduate Anthony Medina put the Sockers (19-2) ahead, 3-2, when he scored a power-play goal with 8:45 left in the first half.
The PASL-Pro title was the fourth for Medina, who had played in every game of the Sockers’ U.S. professional sports team 48-game winning streak that was snapped earlier this season.
Medina admitted the Sockers’ latest championship title was the most difficult — and perhaps sweetest — to win.
“Every team sees us with a target on our backs and always give their best effort against us,” the VHS and University of San Francisco grad said. “It’s difficult to play against these teams. They want to do everything in their power to beat us.
“It’s difficult to win anything four years in a row, so this is just as sweet as the first year.”
The Sockers held leads of 4-2, 5-3 and 6-4 in Monday’s game but were caught each time by an increasingly determined Detroit team. The Waza Flo (17-3) tied the game, 6-6, with 4:25 left in the fourth quarter.
But, with overtime looming, the Sockers reached into their magic bag for their best quality: resiliency. It was the same magic that the team used to snatch a 6-5 overtime victory from the Las Vegas Legends in the semifinals played the previous night.
Chiky Luna banked in a deflection off Detroit defender Scotty Wright with 4:04 to play and Brian Farber scored an empty-net goal with 39.4 seconds to seal the Sockers’ victory to the delight of the 3,336 fans in attendance.
Luna, the 1997 San Diego Section Division I Player of the Year at Vista High School, scored the golden goal on a dramatic scissor kick in the Sockers’ OT win over Las Vegas.
"We worked hard for it as a team, and this is how I wanted it to end,” Paul Wright summed up. “To have it end the way we planned it all year long, it's just the best thing in the world."
PASL-Pro MVP Kraig Chiles led the Sockers with his 14th and 15th goals of the playoffs in Monday's win. The former SDSU and Poway High alum finished the season with 71 goals in 20 games. Eduardo Velez had a goal and two assist in the championship game victory while Raymundo Reza contributed a goal and assist and team captain Aaron Susi scored once.
Chris Toth, 23, son of Sockers legend Zoltan Toth, was the winning goalkeeper in both the semifinals and championship game for the Sockers.
Among the first to hold the Ron Newman Cup championship trophy was Chula Vista's Norbert Stein, the team's No. 1 fan and at 100, its oldest.
An award-winning poet, he came up with a rhyme appropriate for the occasion. "Soccer is a challenging game to endeavor, 48 will be ours forever."
Both the Sockers and Waza advanced to the PASL-Pro title contest after scoring tense overtime victories in semifinal play on Sunday.
The semifinal double-header, which saw the Detroit team defeat the Rio Grande Valley Flash 6-5 on a golden goal in the opener and the Sockers nudge past the Las Vegas Legends by the same score, attracted 4,278fans.
Luna's OT winner, which came just 1:20 into the sudden-victory period on a power-play, was his third goal of the playoffs. "The ball bounced kind of high, too high for me to side-foot it," Luna said in a league release. "I knew the goalie was down trying to make the save, and I jumped up and did a half 'bike' (bicycle kick) … We worked hard, knew we weren't going to lose."
Chiles, who scored twice, set records this season for goals and points scored in one season and received his third PASL-Pro MVP award, presented by Sockers legend Juli Veee during presume ceremonies.
Farber, Ze Roberto and Susi (who also had two assists) also lit the lamp for the hosts, who extended their undefeated home record to 45-0 (32-0 in regular season PASL action).
Chiles appeared to score the game-winner with 2:23 to play in regulation to snap a 4-4 tie. But the Las Vegas Legends tied the game at five-all on a sixth-attacker goal by Rodrigo Barbirato with 43 seconds to play.
The speedy Legends, who received two goals from Eric Guzman, were equally deserving to win. Las Vegas finished the season 15-4.
Detroit's Miki Djerisilo scored the golden goal against the Flash on a power play with just 1:30 to play in the 15-minute sudden-victory OT period. The goal was his second of the game.
The Sockers have shattered attendance records this season in their return to the Sports Arena after playing their first three seasons in Del Mar. Besides the four PASL-Pro titles, they have also amassed three U.S. Open Cup titles along the way.
It's obviously been a successful reconnect with the past for the new Sockers -- many of whose players grew up watching the original Sockers play in the 1980s and 1990s.
"It's a lot of fun," said Bonita Vista High School alum Gus Castaneda, who played for the original Sockers and was competing this past weekend for the Sockers reserve team in the PASL amateur championship tournament. "The key is that there is a Sockers team playing in San Diego and at playing at the Sports Arena. That's very important because San Diego does not have a MLS (Major League Soccer) team. The Xolos in Tijuana are a great option but the Sockers are another great option for fans who can't or don't want to cross the border."
All-PASL First Team
F Kraig Chiles (SD) 56g/16a/72p
F Nestor Hernandez (CHI) 38g/12a/50p
M Brian Farber (SD) 26g/20a/46p
D Costea Decu (DET) 23g/5a/28p
D Eric Guzman (LV) 14g/18a/32p
GK Sagu (DAL) 11-2, 3.56 GAA
All-PASL Second Team
F Aaron Susi (SD) 19g/32a/51p
F Enrique Tovar (LV) 24g/33a/57p
F Ivan Campos (TUR) 33g/15a/48p
D Kiley Couch (DAL) 2g/12a/14p
D Damian Garcia (RGV) 16g/8a/24p
GK Joe Kapinos (DET) 13-1, 4.56 GAA