Stakes getting higher for Sockers in MASL championship series

Sockers assistant coach Rene Ortiz shares in a moment of celebration following Sunday’s semifinal win over the Chihuahua Savage that catapulted the Sockers first team into the upcoming MASL championship series. Photo by Phillip Brents

It was a class reunion of sorts for San Diego Sockers assistant coach Rene Ortiz during Sunday’s Major Arena Soccer League semifinal playoff match against the Chihuahua Savage at Pechanga Arena.

Prior to the game, Ortiz, a physical education teacher at Hilltop high School, and his 2022 MASL2 championship squad, the Sockers2, were honored by the Sockers first team for winning this year’s league playoff title April 10 with a 7-4 win over the Cleveland Crunch in Muskegon, Mich.

During the featured match, Ortiz was reunited with several players on each team who play for him on the Mexican national indoor soccer team. Ortiz serves as head coach of Team Mexico and has been very successful after placing runner-up in the Mini-Football World Cup in 2017 in Tunisia and winning the 2019 tournament in Australia.

Brandon Escoto, Cesar Cerda, Luis Ortega and Christian Gutierrez represented Team Mexico in the 2019 tournament in Australia under the guidance of Ortiz at the international level.

The four players will represent the Sockers in the upcoming Ron Newman Cup championship series after the top-seeded Sockers, sitting on the verge of elimination after a 7-6 overtime loss on April 18 in Chihuahua, Mexico, in the opening leg of the teams’ best-of-three semifinal series, rebounded with a 6-2 victory in Game 2 of the series in Sunday’s final leg and a 4-1 win in the ensuing 15-minute mini-game to capture the series two-games-to-one.

Gutierrez received second star billing in the Game 2 regulation win with one goal while Ortega also scored once in the game in which the Sockers snapped a 2-2 tie in the third quarter with four unanswered goals. Escoto drew assists on the Sockers’ final two goals to put away the victory and force the decisive mini-game.

Brandon Escoto scoresd the game-winning goal in the mini-game to propel the Sockers into the MASL championship series. Photo by Phillip Brents
The goals kept coming in the latter stages of the mini-game, and so did cheers from the fans in attendance. Photos by Phillip Brents

Gutierrez led the Sockers in the thrilling mini-game as the first star with one goal and two assists while Cerda was the third star with an assist on what proved to be the game-winning goal scored by Escoto at 9:28 to break a 1-1 deadlock.

“It was great — it’s a plus to play against your teammates from the national team,” Cerda said. “You know it’s not going to be easy; you’ve got to play with your heart.”

“It was invaluable to play with the Mexican national team,” Escoto said. “We need to keep working hard to get our final objective of getting the championship again.”

“I’ve been coaching these guys for many years,” Ortiz said. “We’re trying to get back-to-back championships, which is rare. We’re going to do our best to make it happen.

“The guys out there tonight on both teams were among the best players from the Mexican national team. When Monterrey LaRaZa came into the league (Continental Indoor Soccer League) in 1993 and won back-to-back championships (in 1995-96), it proved that the talent in Mexico was there.”

The Sockers2 MASL2 championship team was honored prior to the semifinal game against the Chihuahua Savage. Photos by Phillip Brents

The game attendance on Sunday was 2,271 but the fans made enough noise for a crowd of 6,000.

The Sockers (27-0-2) are hoping to make even more noise on the field of their own in the best-of-three finals against the second-seeded Florida Tropics (22-4-2).

The Tropics will host Game 1 on Monday while the Sockers have home field advantage in the return leg on May 8.


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Photos by Phillip Brents