By Hector Trujillo
The San Diego Sockers were crowned North American Professional Arena Soccer League Champions on Saturday after defeating La Raza de Guadalajara 9-8 in front of their home crowd at the Del Mar Arena.
"We set this goal out at the beginning of the year and thought we had the team to achieve this goal," said Sockers forward Kraig Chiles. "It feels good to know that we were right." Chiles, who scored three goals in the match, finished the season with 39 goals to lead the entire league.
After taking a 6-1 lead early in the second quarter, San Diego withstood a late charge by the visitors, who pulled within one goal with less than four minutes to play. The final three and a half minutes were marked by a non-stop onslaught by La Raza, attempting to send the game into overtime.
The visitors found two quality chances to tie the game with less than two minutes left; one was missed at point-blank range and the other was deflected by Sockers goalkeeper Riley Swift. Swift was named Most Valuable Player for his performance during the 2009-10 finals and playoffs.
"Our team showed a lot of character by not giving up after falling behind early," said Guadalajara goalkeeper Eduardo Arevalo. "We gave ourselves a chance at the end but could not capitalize. Swift did a great job and his team is a deserving champion. We hope to play them again in the finals next season."
San Diego punched its ticket to the championship match after defeating the Sidekicks del Estado de Mexico 6-5 the previous night. The match was the second semi-final of the playoffs and did not conclude until 10:30 p.m. after the Sidekicks contested calls made by the referees. La Raza made it to the finals after defeating the defending champion California Cougars 7-5 in the first semi-final on Thursday night.
"There was no way we were going to lose in front of our home crowd," said Sockers midfielder Miguel "Chiky" Luna. "At the end our legs were kind of shot but the fan support was unreal. They supported us when the game started until the game ended."
With the PASL-Pro title, San Diego, who finished the season undefeated at home, earned its 11th professional indoor soccer championship since the team's inception in 1974.
Video courtesy of YouTube