SAN DIEGO – The Turlock Express were within inches of knocking off the defending Professional Arena Soccer League Champion San Diego Sockers on Saturday night, in a divisional playoff matchup.
But 6:29 into a sudden death, golden goal overtime, the Sockers' leading scorer Kraig Chiles connected off a corner kick to give San Diego a 12-11 victory.
Turlock's fate in the two-leg playoff now rests on today's game with the Sockers (15-1 regular season), to be played at 7 p.m. in the Orleans Arena, Las Vegas. Should the Express (9-7 regular season) win, they will force a 15 minute winner-take all contest to determine who goes on to play either the Las Vegas Legends or Toros Del Mexico on March 10.
“If (the Express players) keep their composure, and keep playing for each other, they know they can win the game tomorrow,” Turlock Express head coach Art Pulido said. “… They saw that (the Sockers) can be beat, so we should be able to pull an upset tomorrow.”
The Turlock Express never led the game Saturday, played in San Diego's Valley View Casino Center. But the Express did tie the game twice: once in the second quarter, and once when it mattered most – the end of regulation.
The tying shot, scored by Arturo Pulido, son of head coach Art Pulido, silenced a raucous 3,000-plus member crowd in San Diego. Sockers players started yelling at one another on the field, while a small-but-vocal contingent of Turlock fans went wild.
The Sockers aren't used to losing. The most storied franchise in the history of indoor soccer, the Sockers have 13 titles to their name – including the last three PASL cups. They've lost just one game since December 2010, setting a professional sports record with 48 consecutive wins along the way.
Conversely, the Turlock Express are newcomers. But in their two seasons of PASL play, the Express have made the PASL Newman Cup playoffs each time.
According to Ivan Campos, Turlock's leading scorer who notched five goals in Saturday's contest, the Express don't think of the matchup as a clash between David and Goliath. Turlock's players believe in each other, he said.
“We have a really good team,” Campos said. “Me, as one of the older players on the team, I think we can beat any other team in the league.”
Turlock had a chance to win the game in regulation, going on a two-minute power play with 2:14 remaining and the score knotted at 11-11. The Express did not convert the power play, just barely missing several chances.
Turlock struggled on power plays throughout the contest, going just 3-6 while San Diego went 4-5. Turlock would always come near killing the San Diego power play, with the Sockers scoring in the final 30 seconds. Turlock killed only one Sockers powerplay – in overtime.
The Express trailed 11-8 late in the game, and were behind by as many as five goals at one point.
Though many teams would cave facing such a deficit, Sockers head coach Phil Salvagis wasn't surprised by the Express's no-quit attitude.
“All they needed was more time to catch up in every game we played them, and tonight they did it,” Salvagis said. “… They've got big hearts. They don't give up, these guys.”
San Diego led first, when Chiles scored on a 3-on-2 breakaway in the first quarter. Sockers captain Aaron Susi scored on a free kick during a power play to give the Sockers a 2-0 lead early in the second.
But Turlock stormed back – a portent of things to come – as the second wound on, tying the game at 2-all thanks to a Brodil Koochoie goal and beautiful, spin-o-rama goal from Campos.
The Sockers responded quickly, notching a momentum-crushing shorthanded goal by Chiles, followed by a score from Anthony Medina after a long toss by goalkeeper Riley Swift.
The San Diego lead grew larger in a wild third quarter, when 11 goals were scored. The Sockers led 8-3 after four San Diego goals were scored in less than four minutes of play, with one Koochoie goal keeping things somewhat manageable.
But then Turlock began to claw back, scoring three goals in two minutes. Scores from Samuel Saldate, Pulido, and a Campos goal from the redline narrowed the gap to 8-6.
Swift earned his third assist of the night on a long ball to Susi, which he headed in to put the Sockers back up by 3. But Campos responded immediately with an unassisted goal, ending a action-packed third quarter at 10-7.
Turlock's Jesse Horta scored first in the fourth quarter, on a bounce pass from Saldate. A penalty on the Express's Jose Barajas allowed Socker Chiky Luna to score his second goal of the contest on the power play.
Down 11-8 with less than 9 minutes to play, Turlock scored three straight goals against to force overtime. Campos scored on a nifty piece of footwork, bouncing the ball through his feet and shooting with his heel, then later scored from near midfield. Pulido's goal tied the game at 11 all, but was the final score for the Express.
In overtime the Express had a few chances, but were forced to play defense for much of the affair after Campos was flagged for boarding. The Express killed that penalty, but succumbed to a corner kick after 6:39 of sudden death play, ending the game.
The Turlock Express will play the San Diego Sockers in the deciding matchup at 7 p.m. today. TurlockCityNews.com will cover the game live, with play-by-play tweeting, photos, and videos @TurlockCityNews.
TurlockCityNews.com's coverage of the Express's playoff run is made possible by the Turlock Poker Room, major sponsors of the Express who donated travel and accommodations to local media outlets.