The sockers can finally play again at home
Minutes before 5 p.m. on Sunday, the overhead lights inside the Pechanga Arena will turn off, a spotlight will shine on an inflatable Sockers logo, players will emerge from the bubble, and indoor football will return.
When the home side debut against Chihuahua in their 2021-22 home opener, it will mark the Sockers’ first home game in nearly two years, 652 days to be exact.
“It will be something very special,” said 37-year-old goalkeeper Boris Pardo. “It’s going to put a smile on all of our faces.”
Veteran midfielder Kraig Chiles added: “We are delighted to be back in front of our home fans, trying to create the atmosphere, the buzz that we had before COVID.”
Amid COVID tenures and health concerns, the Major Arena Soccer League managed a truncated 2021 season. Seven of the 12 teams have chosen to play. Players who were contractually engaged with teams that did not participate in the season were free to be loaned to teams that were playing.
The regular season has been reduced from 24 games to 10. Due to state mandates, the Sockers have played every game on the road.
“We were like the dogs of the road,” said Pardo.
All seven teams advanced to the playoffs, with the Sockers (4-6) finishing fifth seed. Like an NFL wildcard who gets hot during the playoffs and Super Bowl advances, the Sockers have taken the plunge.
In the first round, San Diego swept Tacoma 2-0, winning both games 6-5 in overtime. In the semifinals, the Sockers faced the Tropics of Florida. As the No.1 seed, the Tropics could choose who they wanted to face and choose the Sockers.
“It was the turning point,” Pardo said. “The guys who needed to step up did it. “
The Sockers soaked the Tropics 2-0, again winning both games by one goal.
“We kind of appreciated the opportunity to take on the outsider role,” said Chiles, a Poway High and San Diego State product. “We had to dig deep and defend fiercely. “
In the Ron Newman Cup final, the Sockers faced second seed Ontario at Fury’s Toyota Arena. The Sockers split the first two games, then won the 15-minute mini-game 2-1 to claim their first MASL title in eight seasons.
It was the Sockers’ first championship since 2013, when the team played in the Professional Arena Soccer League.
Dating back to the original Indoor Sockers, which debuted in 1980 in the North American Soccer League, it was the franchise’s 15th indoor championship in 32 seasons, spanning four leagues.
“Playing all of our games on the road,” said Chiles, “it’s been a historic season. “
“We just have a bunch of resilient guys,” Pardo said. “We were used to being outside our comfort zone (on the road). Because of our reputation, everyone wants to beat the Sockers.
Before Sunday’s kick-off, players will receive their championship rings and a banner will be unfurled from the rafters.
MASL returns to 12 teams spread across the country this season, including Sunday’s opponent from Chihuahua, Mexico. The Sockers opened the season last Saturday with a 10-7 victory at Tacoma.
The two top scorers from last season are back, midfielders Leonardo de Oliveira and Brandon Escoto. After being loaned to the Sockers last season by Harrisburg, forward Tavoy Morgan was acquired through trade.
The most anticipated newcomer, Juan Carlos (Charlie) Gonzalez, was signed as a free agent after playing for his rival Ontario. Gonzalez and Escoto scored four points in the season opener at Tacoma.
Ahead of last Saturday’s game, the Sockers returned to Pechanga Arena for practice. With the stands empty, kicking the balloons on their floors after being away for so long was special.
“We were all laughing and smiling,” Pardo said.
The mood will be different for the team’s first home game in 652 days.
Pardo said: “We’re super excited to go out and put on a show for the fans.”
Norcross is a freelance writer.