Impressive Empire Drops Shootout to Sockers Before 4,203

by Gunnar Berndt

Strykers’ Gueye has three assists as Sockers’ Chiles, Escoto earn four points each

WATCH: Marco Fabián postgame comments

WATCH: Alan Perez postgame comments

WATCH: Momo Gueye postgame comments

Ontario, Calif. — Playing in front of an electric crowd of 4,203, the Empire Strykers came within a hair of upsetting Western Conference leaders San Diego Sockers on Sunday evening, fighting back from a four-goal deficit to level things at 8-8 late in the fourth period. The 14-2-0 Sockers, who got four-point performances from Brandon Escoto and Kraig Chiles, prevailed 1-0 in the shootout. Meanwhile, the 3-12-1 Strykers turned heads with a spirited battle, powered in part by three assists from forward-turned-defender Momo Gueye. Empire’s ex-Mexico star Marco Fabián scored in his 13th straight MASL game.   

The Sockers wasted little time in the opening quarter, grabbing the early lead when Escoto’s drive from the yellow line took a wicked deflection off former Sockers man Gerardo Jurado and left ‘keeper Brian Orozco without a chance. The visitors quickly doubled their lead, as Kraig Chiles laid the ball off first-time to Escoto and the midfielder bagged his second by firing a low half-volley inside the right post for a gorgeous tally. There would be yet another goal from San Diego before Empire’s first, Juan Gonzalez converting a Drew Ruggles helper to make it 0-3.

The Strykers finally pulled one back when Fabián rifled a right-footed bullet into the net from far outside the area. However, the opposition quickly reestablished its previous cushion when Escoto turned provider, finding Chiles for a 1-4 scoreline. Empire then had a golden chance at the other end, Jurado picking out a streaking Alan Perez with a pinpoint pass from deep inside his own half, but Sockers backstop Boris Pardo produced a point-blank save to keep out the attempted one-touch finish from the doorstep.

The home side was subsequently punished for the missed opportunity, Felipe Gonzalez extending San Diego’s lead to 1-5 on a Chiles assist. The final netter of the period went to the Strykers, as Fabián connected with an Adam James pass to cut his team’s deficit back to three.

The hosts nearly pulled another one back in the second quarter, Sockers ‘keeper Pardo coming up with an excellent kick-save to deny a powerful low drive by Perez. Empire did find its third of the game when James nodded home the rebound following a dangerous shot by Justin Stinson and a fingertip stop from Pardo. Empire netminder Orozco then provided evidence of his own quality, going fully extended for a left-handed diving parry that kept out a long-range rocket from Escoto. Orozco had another standout moment not long thereafter, as he just managed to keep the ball out on a goal-line scramble.

The Sockers were last to find the net before the halftime whistle, making it 3-6 with less than a minute left as Escoto grabbed his second helper on Chile’s second tally of the contest.

Following intermission, Empire seemed determined to turn things around, and Head Coach Paul Wright’s men nearly got to within two on a dangerous Stinson drive, but ‘keeper Pardo made the save by sticking out his right hand as he was leaning the wrong way. Pardo did his best on the hosts’ next quality look but found himself unable to deny Jurado, the assist going to Riley Urie. Visibly energized by the tally, the Strykers kept pushing forward and leveled the score at 6-6 when Momo Gueye’s long pass found Alan Perez on the right and the 24-year-old created space with some nifty footwork before rifling a shot inside the left upright.

San Diego jumped back on top moments after the equalizer, Mitchell Cardenas setting up Juan Salazar, and Cesar Cerda then made it 6-8 from Christian Gutierrez. To close the period, Empire’s Anthony Wright was ejected with a straight red card.

The Strykers put up a fight in the game’s final quarter, and they got to within one when Riley Urie exploded past several opposition players and blasted his shot past Pardo for an outstanding solo goal. A wide-open Momo Gueye nearly the leveler, but Sockers netminder Pardo kept his side in the lead with a superb kick-save. However, the 39-year-old Pardo was left helpless on the day’s dramatic equalizer. With less than a minute left to play, the home crowd went into a frenzy when a long pass out of the back found Stinson on the left and the attacker nodded it centrally to Perez, who made it 8-8 by slotting inside the right post.

While the hosts spent the majority of overtime on the front foot, they couldn’t manage the decisive tally, and Strykers backstop Orozco had to spring into action a couple of times to prevent the visitors from grabbing the golden goal. Most notably, the 22-year-old produced an outstanding kick-save to deny indoor legend Chiles. San Diego would go on to prevail 1-0 in the shootout, Chiles being the only one of the takers to find the net.

The Empire Strykers’s return to action on February 28, as they take on the visiting Kansas City Comets at Ontario’s Toyota Arena. Tickets to the match are available here.