The San Diego Sockers: A Legacy Renewed

Jo-Ryan SalazarSenior Analyst IJuly 26, 2010

I want to go ahead and take time off my usual Los Angeles Galaxy spiels and play-by-plays to reminisce and salute the glories of another in Southern California. It has been more than three months after the fact, but like a phoenix from ashes, the tradition and history of San Diego's most prolific football team rose to lay its claim as the best in America.

No, I am not talking about the San Diego Chargers. Heck; they haven't won a Super Bowl yet. I'm talking about the San Diego Sockers of the Professional Arena Soccer League, also known as PASL-Pro.

Phil Salvagio's Sockers—who call the Del Mar Arena home—completed a unique double in the indoor game earlier this year. They won their 11th league championship by beating La Raza de Guadalajara (which is unrelated in any way to Chivas) 9-8, and they won the US Open Cup Arena Soccer Championship with a 11-7 victory over the Louisville Lightning.

San Diego's win against La Raza was their first since 1992, ending an 18-year drought. It brought full circle its past and its present, setting the stage for what will be a bright future.

The history of the Sockers began in B-more, otherwise known as Baltimore. In 1974, the Baltimore Comets were born, and they began competing in the North American Soccer League.

After the 1974 season, the Comets made the cross-country trip to the golden coast, where they were named the San Diego Jaws.

In 1977, the Jaws gave it the old Vegas try, but the money ran dry, so it was back to San Diego on the fly. And once they returned, they were given their current moniker of the San Diego Sockers. In those days, they played at Jack Murphy Stadium (now Qualcomm Stadium) and the San Diego Sports Arena.

The 1980's were perhaps the most illustrious decade for the Sockers. In the NASL, they won titles in 1982 and 1984. In the Major Indoor Soccer League, they earned stars in 1983, 1985, 1986, 1988, and 1989.

Their success carried into the early part of the decade, where they earned championships in 1990, 1991 and 1992. But once they competed in the Continental Soccer League, turmoil ensured. Numerous ownership changes and declining revenue doomed this incarnation of the Sockers, which folded in 1996.

A man by the name of David Altomare revived the club with a goal of bringing a winning mentality back to America's Finest City. He was unsuccessful in his efforts. After playing in the World Indoor Soccer League in 2001 and the MISL from 2002-2004, the club fell in the red yet again and folded on December 30, 2004.

The Sockers would not play football for another five years. But in 2009, a couple of local businessmen in David Pike and Carl Savoia joined forces with Salvagio to bring the Sockers back. The success would be eminent in their maiden campaign in PASL-Pro.

The Sockers are led by Paul Wright, who was with the team during their last championship campaign prior to the 2009-10 season. 

Aside from Wright, other key scoring threats for San Diego included Miguel "Chiky" Luna, Aaron Susi, Kraig Chiles, Anthony Medina, Brazilian Ze Roberto, and a couple of workhorses on defense in defender Dan Antoniuk and goalkeeper Riley Swift.

Antoniuk and Swift would be named to the first team, while Wright and Chiles earned second team honors.

Chiles would finish the season with 28 goals to lead the team, while Wright's playmaking ability was the reason behind his 23 assists.

On November 8, 2009, the Sockers returned to the pitch for an exhibition against the Stars of Mexico and won, 9-5 at Del Mar. 

That set the wheels for a brilliant opening to the campaign, as the Sockers rocked and rolled. They defeated the Denver Dynamite 12-6 to open the year, edged the Texas Outlaws 7-5, won a 5-4 overtime thriller against the California COugars, destroyed the Dynamite again 15-5, prevailed over Revolucion Tijuana 5-4, beat rival side San Diego Fusion 10-6 in the US Open Cup Quarterfinals and crushed Tijuana 13-6 to end the calendar year unbeaten.

The Sockers began 2010 with an 8-7 victory over California and a 11-5 win over Estadio Azteca before suffering their first setback of the campaign, a 4-3 heartbreaker to Calgary United on January 5.

They would bounce back with a 14-7 rout of Texas, and edged the Cougars once more 11-10 before earning their only defeat to California, 7-6 on February 13.

Tijuana also earned their first victory of the season against the Sockers, a 9-6 defeat on February 19. Suddenly, Salvagio's men were going through a dry spell late in the campaign. Could they turn their fortunes around and remain in the hunt?

The answer: Yes. They got payback the following match day with a 16-6 rout of Tijuana and lynched the Edmonton Drillers 8-3 to earn fresh steam heading into the postseason. In the semifinals of the US Open Cup, Vitesse Dallas fell to the Sockers 11-7.

As the regular season champions, the Del Mar Arena would host the North American Championships of PASL-Pro. In their March 12 semifinal match, Luna scored on a free kick from Aaron Susi to help San Diego defeat the Mexico City Sidekicks 6-5, setting up a chance to conquer their neighbors to the south on on March 13.

Now Guadalajara had issues with what they suspected was dubious officiating. But in football, as ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit put it, there's more to a defense than emotion. As a result, the Sockers' power play chances gave them a 3-0 lead that grew to a 7-2 halftime advantage.

San Diego nearly played the hares, as La Raza staged a nearly-successful rally. But even with their aces Horacio Alvarez and Rodrigo Flores doing their part to frustrate the defending of San Diego, Riley Swift proved why he deserved to be on the PASL-Pro first team with 20 saves against La Raza to earn MVP honors.

The Sockers have their own band of ultra supporters, known as the 7th Man. And they stormed the Del Mar pitch in a riotous celebration. You won't get away with this at the Home Depot Center, but at the Del Mar Arena, you can. And some.

Finally, there was one more piece of business yet to be completed: the U.S. Open Cup final with the Lightning, a team that missed PASL-Pro postseason action by one game.

What was even more impressive about this trip was that their depth won the battle at the Mockingbird Valley Sports Arena. Luna, Medina and Eric Wunderle each garnered a brace while Susi, Nate Hetherington and Diego Rovira added a goal. 

With Salvagio's arsenal put to work, all that Louisville could do was try to play catch-up as the Sockers put an end to a magical, "rise-from-the-dead" season with their 11-7 victory.

So when you go to Del Mar, California in the fall, don't just reminisce about the fair, or the races, or the fair and the races.

Think of a team that has unified its glorious past with its accomplished present as a foundation for a promising future. Think of a team that has won 11 championships in three different leagues. Think of a team that has done a fine job making its fans proud in America's Finest City.

Think of the San Diego Sockers.

And when you do, go ahead and stop by the friendly confines of the Del Mar Arena to watch those gentlemen play. You'll be glad you did.

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From left to right: David Kamatoy, Chicky Luna and Dan McLellan.
Photo by Stephen Prendergast.