The San Diego Sockers took a giant step toward winning their second consecutive Major Arena Soccer League championship on Monday night, recording a 6-3 victory over the Florida Tropics at the RP Funding Center in Lakeland, Fla.
Veteran forward Kraig Chiles scored one goal and set up the go-ahead score an entertaining fourth quarter to lead the Sockers in the first game of the Ron Newman Cup final. Cesar Cerda and Guerrero Pino added empty net goals with defender Drew Ruggles on as the sixth attacker in the waning minutes.
San Diego and Florida will tussle in Game Two at Pechanga Arena San Diego on Sunday at 8:05 p.m. If the Tropics win, a 15-minute Extra Time Game will decide the champion.
The fourth quarter certainly had a few twists and turns deserving of a championship series.
Zach Reget rallied the Tropics from a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 lead with a pair of goals before the Sockers came back, striking 55 seconds part to grab a 4-3 advantage.
First, Chiles put home a Charlie Gonzalez feed at 5:24 before he turned playmaker less than a minute later as his free kick set up Brandon Escoto for an open header at the far-right post at 6:19.
For the first three quarters, it was a low-scoring affair in a battle between two of the highest scoring teams in the league before things heated up in the fourth period.
The Sockers grabbed a 2-1 halftime advantage on a pair of goals by Tavoy Morgan.
First, the Tropics surprised the visitors as Victor Parreiras tallied 63 seconds after the opening kickoff. Then San Diego dominated the rest of the half.
Morgan equalized off a Charlie Gonzalez feed at 4:03 past goalkeeper Rainer Hauss.
With the second period only 82 seconds old, the Morgan and Gonzalez combination struck again to give the Sockers a 2-1 edge. This time Morgan scored from just outside of the box.
The Tropics challenged a non-call by the referee with 90 seconds left in the third quarter, claiming that San Diego goalkeeper Boris Pardo committed a handball outside of the penalty area. The replay, however, was inconclusive because Pardo’s back was to the video, and it could not tell whether he actually had touched the ball.
That didn’t stop Florida from vying for the equalizer, which Reget accomplished only 68 seconds into the fourth quarter. Ruggles set up Reget, who drilled a 50-foot line drive from the yellow line into the upper right corner for a 2-2 deadlock.
Reget wasn’t finished with his heroics, as he scored during a scramble from the right side at 4:59 of the fourth period to lift the Tropics into a 3-2 lead before the Sockers pulled off some late heroics of their own.