SD Sockers Tested by Resilient Ontario Fury Squad
Landon Donovan & Jermain Jones … face off as their teams battle it out.
The San Diego Sockers won their 19th straight match on Thursday night versus a motivated Ontario Fury side that is making a final playoff push. San Diego recorded a road victory over Ontario in another intense matchup between Pacific Division rivals ahead of the 2018/19 MASL Playoffs.
The night was highlighted by Landon Donovan’s first match in Ontario since joining the Major Arena Soccer League (MASL) in January. The Ontario native also faced off against Jermaine Jones, a former teammate on the U.S. Men’s National Team.
A stellar performance by Jones almost led Ontario to a comeback victory, but San Diego’s depth lifted the visiting club. The Sockers swept the season series versus Ontario with a total of five wins over their Pacific Division rival.
“It got a little tough,” said San Diego defender Juan Gonzalez. “We knew it was not going to be easy because they have must-win games in order to make playoffs. We definitely got some things to improve on, but thankfully we got the W.”
As the first quarter expired, Jones scored the opening goal of the night to give Ontario a 1-0 lead. Jones displayed his two-way presence, turning defense into offense for his first tally. The six-foot forward dispossessed San Diego along the sideline boards, turned down the field and passed a ball to the corner. The initial shot off the crossbar fell to an Ontario attacker whose attempt was blocked by San Diego goalkeeper Boris Pardo. Jones collected the second rebound for Ontario and hit a high ball into the back of the net.
The Sockers scored less than 90 seconds into the second quarter. On the power play, San Diego swung the ball from sideline to sideline in search of an opening. Leonardo De Oliveira collected the ball at the left corner, picked his head up and served a low pass to Brandon Escoto at the back post for the one-time finish.
Kraig Chiles gave the Sockers a 2-1 advantage with just over five minutes remaining of the half. Following eight minutes of hard tackles and blown whistles, Chiles scored a deflected strike from distance to calm the vocal Ontario crowd.
San Diego extended its lead with under two minutes left of the half. Cesar Cerda finished a give-and-go with Ze Roberto to give the visitors a 3-1 lead at halftime. The visiting club tallied 14 shots on goal in the first half, while Ontario recorded seven.
Jones cut the deficit just over a minute into the third quarter with a finish from 15 yards out.
A string of mistakes by Ontario quickly resulted in two goals for the Sockers.
After a loss of possession by Ontario while dribbling out of its defensive third, Ze Roberto received a pass near the left sideline and then found Leonardo De Oliveira at the top of the penalty box for the one touch and low finish.
A stunning effort from Christian Gutierrez extended San Diego’s lead 15 seconds later. Gutierrez dispossessed Ontario along the boards in San Diego’s defensive half, picked his head up and caught goalkeeper Chris Toth off his line for the long-range finish.
Donovan assisted Christian Segura on the power play to give the Sockers a 6-2 lead with less than four minutes remaining of the third quarter.
The Fury cut the lead in the 13th minute of the third quarter. Thiago Goncalves stepped up to a free kick and played Evan McNeeley who hit a low strike that squeaked into goal. Ontario was behind 3-6 heading into the final quarter.
Jones recorded his hat-trick under two minutes into the fourth quarter. Andy Reyes served a ball to Jones for another low finish from 15 yards out. Two minutes later, Juan Carlos Gonzalez cut the deficit to one with McNeeley recording the assist.
Ontario brought the match level with less than five minutes left of play. On the power play, Ontario remained patient until the final seconds of the player advantage. McNeeley hit a left-footed strike from distance that an unmarked Maicon De Abreu controlled at the goal line for the easy finish.
With under five minutes left of the match, a 6-6 scoreline filled the box sheet on another thrilling night between the Pacific Division rivals.
Despite Ontario’s display, the San Diego Sockers regained its footing down the stretch to record the victory. First, Chiles found the overlapping run to Edward Velez for the high finish. A moment of brilliance by Travis Pittman extended San Diego’s lead with just over two minutes remaining of the match. With the outside of his foot, Pittman flicked a bouncing ball over his defender and finished with a left-footed strike.
Juan Gonzalez and Cerda each found the back of the net from distance as Ontario pulled Toth higher up the pitch in search of a final comeback. San Diego closed out the night with a hard-fought 10-6 road win.
The Sockers have been kept on their toes during the final stretch of the regular season. San Diego came back to defeat the Tacoma Stars, potential playoff opponent, last Sunday in another Pacific Division thriller.
“It’s definitely a good thing to finish off the season with these teams,” said Juan Gonzalez. “Very tough. We are trying to keep the momentum going all the way into playoffs. We know they are not going to be easy games.”
The Sockers return to San Diego for their final two home matches of the 2018/19 MASL regular season. The club will host RGV Barracudas on Sunday, April 7, at 5:05 p.m. PT at Pechanga Arena San Diego. San Diego’s final regular season match will be against Monterrey Flash on Saturday, April 13, at 7:05 p.m. PT.