Empire Falls 3-10 Away to San Diego

by Gunnar Berndt

Several Sockers shine in comfortable victory


San Diego, Calif. — With nothing but pride on the line in their rivalry game against the San Diego Sockers, the Empire Strykers fell 3-10 away to the two-time Major Arena Soccer League (MASL) champions on Sunday evening. The defeat sees the young Strykers squad, which entered the match eliminated from playoff contention, drop to 3-16-1 (wins-losses-overtime/shootout losses) on the season. San Diego’s comfortable win was powered in part by a dominant second quarter, four-game performances from attackers Tavoy Morgan and Charlie Gonzalez, and a three-point performance from defender Cesar Cerda.

The strong play of Sockers ‘keeper Boris Pardo was a key factor in his side only giving up three netters, the veteran boasting 16 saves and a .862 save percentage. While Empire’s Marco Fabián had his impressive goalscoring streak snapped at 16 games, the Mexican’s teammate Kai Garza earned an assist in his first ever professional indoor game at just 16 years old, having been announced as the Strykers’ latest signing shortly before kickoff.

After a fairly uneventful beginning to the match, San Diego should have grabbed the lead when Felipe Gonzalez sent a low centering ball to Morgan from the right. With ‘keeper Brian Orozco out of position, Morgan stared at a wide-open goal, only to inexplicably miss wide left from the doorstep. The home side was very nearly punished for the squandered chance, Empire’s Riley Urie rattling the right post with a shot from the right.

The Sockers had the final close look of the scoreless opening quarter. Kraig Chiles received the ball with his back to the goal and smartly laid it into the path of Flavio Guzman with a single touch, midfielder Guzman being denied one on one by Orozco, who did an excellent job of rushing off his line and cutting down the angle.

Inside the second period, the Strykers had a golden chance to jump out on top. Positioned outside the area on the left, Gerardo Jurado played a beautiful through pass to a streaking Adam James on the right. The defender did well to get to the ball ahead of opposition netminder Pardo, only to tap it narrowly wide left. The floodgates opened moments later, as San Diego’s Juan Salazer collected in the right corner and set up Cerda, who fired a fierce first-time attempt off the inside of the near post and into the net. The Sockers doubled their advantage shortly thereafter, Salazar rifling a long-range effort under the bar on a breakaway.

The remainder of the quarter saw the home side add three more tallies. After Felipe Gonzalez expertly smashed the ball off the wall on the left to set up Guzman, Morgan scored from Juan Gonzalez and Cerda converted a Juan Gonzalez assist to make it 5-0.

The game’s next netter came after halftime, San Diego adding its sixth courtesy of a gorgeous interplay on a breakaway, Cerda picking out former Empire ace Charlie Gonzalez. The visitors could have pulled one back when Jurado replicated his earlier pass from the left to the right side of the box, this time finding Momo Gueye. The defender was denied by a point-blank parry from Pardo, who had displayed textbook footwork to shuffle across. However, the Strykers continued to push forward and were rewarded with two tallies before the end of the quarter.

After James scored on a Harold Hanson helper, teenager Garza recorded his first ever assist by one-touching the ball into space for Quenton Swift, who blasted it back across the goal from the right and into the side netting. While Brandon Escoto was subsequently unlucky to see his drive from the left bounce off the inside of the right post, the 30-year-old turned provider on Kraig Chiles’ strike that made it 7-2 in the fourth period.

Empire’s Anthony Wright scored one of the goals of the week, receiving the ball from Gueye on the left and unleashing a left-footed bullet from near the red line that caught Pardo by surprise and found the upper right-hand corner. The Sockers’ Charlie Gonzalez then set up Morgan before calling his own number and making it 9-3. Ex-Strykers ace Gonzalez later completed his hat-trick by converting a Morgan helper.

The match ended with some quality goalkeeping on both sides of the turf. First, San Diego backup Xavier Snaer-Williams produced a stunning save by slapping the ball off the left upright, Alan Perez being denied a headed tally from the doorstep. Then, a wide-open Juan Gonzalez forced a point-blank parry from Empire substitute Brandon Gomez at the other end.

Having lost their eighth straight, the Empire Strykers will look for their first win of the season against the Sockers in their Sunday, March 17, home game. Tickets to the clash at Ontario’s Toyota Arena are available here.