Sockers of old inspire championship memories, new Socks catching up

The San Diego Sockers formally retired Paul Wright's jersey number in April 2019. Photo by Phillip Brents

Their names are synonymous with the pinnacle of professional indoor soccer in San Diego: Alan Mayer, Juli Veee, Jean Willrich, Zoltan Toth, Brian Quinn, Kevin Crow, Kaz Deyna and, of course, head coach Ron Newman.

They were the heart and soul of the original San Diego Sockers of the North American Soccer League and Major Indoor Soccer League.

Many have their names immortalized in banners that still hang from the rafters in Pechanga Arena San Diego. Many more are featured in the highlight video the current iteration of the Sockers play on the jumbotron before each home game.

It’s an intimidating legacy to live up to, but the 2021-22 Sockers are doing their best to do that.

The Sockers, circa the Major Arena Soccer League, took a giant step toward winning the fabled franchise’s 16th indoor soccer championship after dispatching the eighth-seeded Milwaukee Wave two-games-to-none in the teams’ best-of-three Ron Newman Cup championship quarterfinal playoff series.

The top-seeded Sockers (25-0-1) defeated the Wave, 9-2, in the teams’ opener April 7 in Wisconsin and completed a two-game sweep with Sunday’s 8-3 win at Pechanga Arena in front of 1,535 appreciative fans.

Four decades of Sockers history hang high above the sports arena carpet. Photos by Phillip Brents

The win was the Sockers’ 22nd consecutive this season. It’s quickly becoming apparent that the so-called “new normal” operating during the COVID-19 pandemic is returning to the “old normal” where the Sockers are concerned, at least.

Veteran Kraig Chiles, the franchise’s all-time leading scorer, chipped in with two goals and one assist in the opener while teammate Leonardo De Oliveira scored one goal and tacked on four assists in Sunday’s win. Goalkeeper Boris Pardo stopped 17 of 19 shots in the series opener and made 13 saves on 16 shots in Sunday’s victory.

But it’s those banners that catch the eye, at least among fans who witnessed the club’s heyday during the 1980s and 1990s, and even those who were around in 1978 when the re-christened franchise landed back in San Diego (after a year as the San Diego Jaws in 1976).

The original Sockers were around long enough to inspire a future generation of local talent to play for them. Grossmont High School alumnus Paul Wright enjoyed four stints with the Sockers (1990-92, 2002-05, 2009-11 and 2012-13) while Valhalla High School grad Anthony Medina played nine seasons with the team upon its emergence in the Professional Arena Soccer League, the forerunner of the current MASL.

The Sockers roared to their 22nd consecutive victory with Sunday’s playoff win over the Wave. Photos by Phillip Brents

Medina ended his lengthy Sockers career with a hat trick upon announcing his retirement during the team’s final regular season game in 2017-18.

Former Bonita Vista Barons to play in the Sockers organization included Gus Castaneda and Anthony “Bo” Meza.

Ex-Chula Vista Spartan Vidal Fernandez, the 1977 San Diego Section Player of the Year. is recognized as the top Socker from the South Bay. CVHS alum Rob Munroe also trained with the Socks.

Former Bonita Vista High School standout Gus Castaneda had a blast playing in the Sockers alumni game in April 2019. Photos by Phillip Brents
Ditto for former Baron Anthony “Boz” Meza.
Valhalla High School alumnus Anthony Media, left, spent nine seasons with the Sockers, winning four PASL championships. Photo by Phillip Brentrs

Wright has his own banner in legacy row high atop the playing field. It’s next to that honoring Toth (1), which is next to Newman (head coach), which is next to Crow (12), which is next to Willrich (15), which is next to Veee (22), which is next to Deyna (10).

The Sockers’ 15 championship banners to date include two from the NASL (1981-82, 1983-84), eight from the MISL (1982-83, 1984-85, 1985-86, 1987-88, 1988-89, 1989-90, 1990-91, 1991-92), four from the PASL (2009-10, 2010-11, 2011-12, 2012-13) and one from the MASL (2020-21).

The Sockers also have four other banners hanging from the rafters — three denoting U.S. Open Arena Cup championships (2009-10, 2010-11, 2011-12) and another denoting the club’s U.S. pro soccer team record consecutive 48-game winning streak.

Somehow the banners have remained together throughout the intervening decades even if the original flashing sign used for player introductions hasn’t.

Following the sweep of the Wave, the Sockers advance to the Ron Newman Cup semifinals and will face the lowest-remaining seed. The Sockers will host Game 2 in the semifinal series on Sunday, April 24, at 5 p.m.

Sockers Legends Zoltan Toth, left, and Juli Veee made an appearance at Sunday’s playoff game. Photo by Phillip Brents

Corner kicks

Both Veee and Toth appeared at the game signing memorabilia. The Sockers also pledged charity support for Ukraine as it comes under attack from Russia.

Former Socker Jacques LaDouceur sang the national anthem. During his stint with the Sockers (1985-1992), he was a Chula Vista resident.

The MASL Shield, emblematic of the league’s regular season champion, was formally presented to Sockers general manager Sean Bowers by MASL commissioner Keith Tozer (formerly a player across several American leagues and the head coach of the MISL Los Angeles Lazers and Milwaukee Wave) during halftime ceremonies.

The Sockers’ pregame parade of champions included the Rebels Premier 2013 team, which also performed a halftime scrimmage.

Ortiz picks up second league title with Sockers2

Rene Ortiz has another ring for his finger and it’s something to be proud of.

Ortiz, a physical education teacher and soccer coach at Hilltop High School, may be better known for his prowess as a player and coach in indoor soccer.

Ortiz won three championships with the original Sockers franchise in the Major Indoor Soccer League and, as a head coach, has now won two Major Arena Soccer League 2 championships with the Sockers2 club.

The MASL2 is the development league for the MASL; the Sockers2 are the developmental team for the Sockers first team.

The Sockers2 previously won the MASL2 championship with a perfect season in 2019.  Ortiz was named the 2019 MASL2 Coach of the Year.

Ortiz guided the Sockers2 to an 11-1 regular season record this season. The team got hot in the playoffs, winning three consecutive games, including the last two in Muskegon, Mich., the site of the MASL2’s semifinals and championships.

The Sockers2 defeated the Omaha Kings FC in a high-scoring 9-8 match in overtime in the semifinals on April 8 and capped their season with a 7-4 victory against the defending champion Cleveland Crunch on April 10.

“I am very pleased to obtain this championship for the second consecutive time. The Division 2 Sockers program main goal is to identify and develop young players to move to the first team,” Ortiz said. “This year we had three players who played with Sockers first team that came out of our Division 2 program. In addition, we always want to compete and win championship due to the fact the Sockers always demands a high level of performance and excellence.”

Hiram Ruiz scored a hat trick in the championship game for the Sockers2, which finished the season with a 14-1 record. The Crunch saw their undefeated season end to finish 13-1.

Ismael Rojo scored two goals and one assist in both the semifinals and title game for the Sockers2, including the golden goal in the semifinals, to earn recognition as the MASL Finals Most Valuable Player.

The Sockers2 defeated the RGV Barracudas in overtime in the quarterfinals.


SD Loyal Makes U.S. Open Cup Debut With 2-1 Win Against Albion San Diego

Evan Conway and Taylor Crull score to send squad to the third round

San Diego (April 6, 2022) – San Diego Loyal SC continues to stack up milestones in its first three years in existence. It added another mark to its history with a 2-1 win against Albion San Diego in its first-ever Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup appearance Wednesday night.

A late goal by Taylor Crull at Canyon Crest Academy, the home site of Albion, helped clinch SD Loyal’s first win in the single elimination tournament and helped send coach Landon Donovan’s team to the third round of the historic competition.

Crull sent in a header off an Alejandro Guido corner kick in the 89th minute to seal the scoring off a match that had SD Loyal trying to break through the Albion defense for most of the night.

Donovan’s squad finally broke the defensive stand by the National Independent Soccer Association (NISA) team with a goal by Evan Conway to open up the scoring in the 41st minute. Conway scored for SD Loyal after he split a pair of defenders as he sprinted into the penalty box, reaching a through pass after he beat his mark. The forward flicked the ball and Albion goalkeeper Benjamin Roach got a piece of it. But it wasn’t enough. The ball continued to roll into an open net.

It was Conway’s second goal with SD Loyal and the club’s first ever goal in the nationwide tournament that pairs professional and amateur clubs from throughout the country. The midweek match also had a pair of SD Loyal USL Academy contract players making their first starts in CJ Fodrey and Xavi Gnaulati. Donovan and his staff relied on a variety of players, including Andrew Carleton, Morgan Hackworth, Taylor Crull and Camden Riley. Davi Santos, another USL Academy contract player, also made his club debut coming on as a substitute in the second half.

SD Loyal continued to move the ball fluidly in the second half, carrying the momentum over from Conway’s first half goal. After all, the forward from Wisconsin nearly scored earlier in the match. With a chance inside the penalty box in the 34th minute, Conway took a pass to his left foot but couldn’t get a clean shot off. Gnaulati took the deflection and tried to move into the box but the Albion defense closed in to end the dangerous play.

Jack Blake nearly scored in the 61st minute when he sent a blast straight at Roach, the Albion goalkeeper, who was at his line to punch away the near point-blank shot.

Albion was able to find the net itself on a quick play. The homeside tied the game 1-1 in the 65th minute with a goal by Mayale Malango. He sent in a cross from left to right past SD Loyal goalkeeper Austin Guerrero, who crashed into one of his defenders as he tried to make the save.

The home side’s tying goal, along with a tight defense led to Donovan bringing on a handful of regular starters late in the second half. The move paid off. It led to the game-winner by Crull off the precise corner kick by Guido.

SD Loyal will now wait for the U.S. Open Cup third round draw to commence on Friday April 8 to find out its next opponent. The third round match will take place between the April 19-21 window of competition.