Landon Donovan had plenty to celebrate about Friday night. (Andy Mead/YCJ Photo)
SAN DIEGO — In his Major Arena Soccer League debut with the San Diego Sockers, Landon Donovan assisted on the game-winning goal in a 6-4 victory over the Tacoma Stars in front of a league season-high crowd of 8,492 at Pechang Arena San Diego Friday night.
The Sockers (13-1), who lead the Pacific Division, set a franchise record for attendance since 2009 while winning their 11th successive game, with six players for the home side netting goals.
“It’s awesome, and this team deserves it,” Donovan said. “It’s the best team in the league, the most storied franchise in soccer history, and the players deserve it. I think the crowd got to know a lot of these players tonight, see great goals, and their personalities shine, it’s a win-win for everyone.”
Donovan, a former U.S. international who set many Major League Soccer records and standards, is considering by many observers to be the best American men’s player in history. He last played with the LA Galaxy in 2016.
Asked to assess his performance, Donovan told the San Diego Union-Tribune: “I’ve got a long way to go, but we’ll get there. It’s fun to get one under your belt and see what it’s like up close. It’s one thing to practice, but totally different with the game intensity. I had a lot of fun.”
Brian Farber put the Sockers into the lead raced onto a header assist from Taylor Bond off a first quarter set-piece, toe-poking in the goal with his right foot at 7:42 for a 1-0 edge.
The Stars (6-7) answered back on a Philip Lund back post tap-in off Derek Johnson’s centering pass for a 1-1 first-period deadlock.
San Diego took control of the match with a 4-0 second quarter, with most of the offense generated from the back line. Cesar Cerda’s wicked a left-to-right dribble in the offensive zone turned into a go-ahead goal at 3:39, putting the Sockers ahead 2-1. Three minutes later, it was Bond’s wall pass finding an unmarked Juan Gonzalez in the crease for his first goal of the season and a 3-1 lead at 6:35.
Goalkeeper Boris Pardo (13-1 record) earned his first assist this season when he found Guerrero Pino on the bench wall at midfield with a distribution. Pino did the rest, turning his defender by letting the ball do the work along the southern wall and then taking four touches to the middle of the field before blasting his third goal of the season from the red line for a 4-1 advantage.
When Tacoma player-coach Nick Perera (2-0-2) was whistled for his fourth foul of the opening half, the Sockers earned a power play and needed only 12 seconds to convert. Working from the low left corner, Donovan found Brandon Escoto lurking toward the back post and fed him a centering pass through defenders that Escoto was able to tap in for his team-leading 18th goal of the season. San Diego led 5-1 at the half.
Tacoma tried to turn the tables with a pair of Perera goals in the third period, sandwiched around San Diego midfielder Travis Pittman’s (former Cosmos B player) fifth goal of the season. Troy Peterson’s rebound goal at 2:43 of the fourth drew Tacoma within two at 6-4, but the Sockers defense held firm from there and withstood over three minutes of the Stars using the sixth attacker to seal the win.
San Diego played without team captain Kraig Chiles (hamstring) and lost Farber to a hamstring injury in the second period. The Stars saw Chris Keitz and Philip Lund take second-half injuries in the match and not return to action.
Both teams travel to Tacoma for the return leg of the weekend home-and-home series, as the Stars host the Sockers Sunday night at 8 p.m. ET at ShoWare Center in Kent. The game will be streamed live on MASL.tv.
Prior to kickoff, the Sockers held a moment of silence for former San Diego defender Fernando Clavijo, who died last week at 63 after a five-year battle with multiple myeloma. Clavijo played for the Sockers from 1984-88 and won three championships. He also performed for the New York Arrows and New York United.