LAS VEGAS – Just one day after the Turlock Express nearly shocked the indoor soccer world, the San Diego Sockers returned order to the Professional Arena Soccer League playoffs.
The 13-time indoor soccer champion Sockers dominated Sunday's PASL divisional playoff game flag-to-flag, winning 13-4 at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.
With a 2-0 victory in the two-leg playoff, San Diego will advance to play the Las Vegas Legends on March 10 at the Valley View Casino Center in San Diego. Turlock's season comes to a close with Sunday's loss.
After leaving the first quarter tied at 1-1, the game got out of hand during a 7 goal second quarter for the Sockers.
Three of the Sockers' goals came as a result of a penalty on Express keeper Javier Pedroza, who tripped a Socker on a breakaway while Turlock was on a power play. Referees granted the Sockers both a shootout penalty shot and a power play for the indiscretion; San Diego scored on the penalty shot, during the ensuing 4-on-4 play, and again on their power play.
The 8-1 gap proved insurmountable, despite the Express's determination. According to Express head coach Art Pulido, every time Turlock got just a bit of momentum a penalty call shut them down.
“We just were deflated,” Pulido said. “Every time we tried to get energy, the air was let out again. Every time we tried to push harder, it just seemed like we kept getting knocked down by certain calls.”
Power plays – and penalties – were a problem for the Express all night Sunday, with the Sockers converting four of seven power play opportunities, not counting the shootout goal. The Express scored on just one of five power play chances.
Many penalty calls came on what appeared to be Socker players diving on incidental contact. The phantom penalties, leading to penalties for the Express when similar contact drew no flag against the Sockers, led Express player Jose Barajas to yell at the refs and later walk off the field without shaking hands at the end of the game.
Turlock also suffered injuries in the first half which hampered any chance at a comeback, as Samuel Saldate left the game with a hip pointer and Adrian Guitierrez left with a pulled groin.
“When you're reduced from your three lines to your two lines because of injuries, that's another situation,” Pulido said. “Because of some guys getting hurt, you can't run your three lines to give some of your guys some extra rest.”
The Express had their chance at winning on Saturday, in game one of the two-leg playoff, when they forced overtime after coming back from five goals down. Turlock scored 11 goals in the 12-11 loss yesterday – the most San Diego has ever allowed at home.
In response to Saturday's near-upset, the Sockers changed goalkeepers for Sunday's contest. Chris Toth replaced Riley Swift in the net, despite Swift's three assists on Saturday. While Toth didn't display the leg of Swift, he made 25 saves on 29 saves attempted.
San Diego also changed their game plan for defending Express midfielder Ivan Campos, who scored five goals on Saturday. Campos was held to one on Sunday, relentlessly swarmed with double and triple-team coverage. His one goal came during a 4-on-4 opportunity late in the fourth quarter, with the game already well out of reach.
“That's why you play these games,” Pulido said. “Every game is pretty much different.”
Martyn Arista scored the Express's first goal just 2:01 into the first quarter. The Express would not score again until 8:32 had elapsed in the third quarter, on a Jesus Belmonte shot. By that point the Express were down 9-2.
Fighting to the end, the Express scored two goals late in the fourth – Campos's, and one from Barajas.
Kraig Chiles, the league's leading scorer and holder of the all-time record for most goals in a PASL season, scored 7 of the Sockers' 13 goals. Team captain Aaron Susi finished with three goals, with two for Diego Rovira.
Express shots missed just high or just wide all game, as players worked to pull Turlock back into the matchup.
“I think they were just trying too hard by that time,” Pulido said. “They were totally exhausted because they just kept putting extra effort out there.”
Though the Turlock Express's season is over, next season looks bright. The Express are a young team, with room to improve.
Pulido said he expects the team to stay largely intact, training together in the offseason in preparation for another run at the Ron Newman cup in the 2013-2014 season.
“We're hoping they stay at a high level by the time they come back to next year's training camp,” Pulido said.
TurlockCityNews.com's coverage of the Express's playoff run was made possible by the Turlock Poker Room, major sponsors of the Express who donated travel and accommodations to local media outlets.