The Rumble in the Jungle. The Thrila in Manilla. The Fray in Monterrey? It may not be the stuff of legend yet, but the San Diego Sockers and Monterrey Flash game Sunday is about as big as a regular season game can get.
Different versions of Monterrey and San Diego’s professional arena soccer teams have squared off since 1993, but the Monterrey Flash and San Diego Sockers have only met twice in the regular season, and twice in the 2012 FIFRA Club Championship. Sunday will be the first meeting between the teams in over four years when the Flash host the Sockers at Arena Monterrey at 5:05pm CST.
In those four prior games, the road team won each time. In 2012, the Sockers took the FIFRA Club Championship trophy by winning both games at Casa Bella, which is now the practice home of the Flash. In the 2013/14 season the Sockers fell 6-5 in a shootout at the Valley View Casino Center, but later that year won their only meeting at Arena Monterrey 8-6. That game, on January 26, 2014, was the last time they played each other.
Sunday’s game is monumental in MASL terms with the 14-0 Southwest Division leading Flash hosting the 12-2 Pacific Division leading Sockers, with possible home field advantage in the Western Conference Finals, and perhaps the Newman Cup Championship on the line. Both of those rounds are single elimination this year and the team with the best overall record will host each game.
“Well it is important because we are playing one of the top teams in the MASL and for us it is a very good chance to prove why we are the best team right now,” said Flash Head Coach Mariano Bollella, whose birthday is Sunday. “It is going to be a difficult game, but we are going to enjoy this game.”
Monterrey has less to prove. They won the Newman Cup in 2015 before taking a two year hiatus. The last time they lost a regular season game was January 25, 2015. Since then, they have won 18 straight regular season games.
This isn’t even the first marquee game for the Flash this year. In November they played a home-and-home with Soles de Sonora, who were coming off back-to-back 17-3 seasons and a pair of Newman Cup Finals appearances, and two weeks ago they hosted the Central Division leading Milwaukee Wave who came into that game with a 12-1 record.
The Sockers, on the other hand, have suffered four straight second round playoff defeats after winning four straight league titles. The Quest for 15 has been relatively long for a team whose league’s championship trophy is named after its former coach. A win Sunday could send a message that the Sockers are ready to take the next step this year.
“I think we have shown from the start that we are a different team,” said Sockers forward Matt Clare. “Going to Monterrey is never an easy task but I believe if we go into the game with the right mentality and attitude anything is possible.”
“It’s a long season and we are continually improving and working toward our goals,” said Sockers veteran speedster Brian Farber. “The matchup this weekend is key in trying to earn the home field advantage in the playoffs and they are clearly in the driver’s seat with zero losses at the moment. Either way it’s going to be a good game.”
One of the Sockers top players is midfielder Erick Tovar, who grew up in Monterrey and played two years for the Flash, and is now in his third season with San Diego. “It’s a strange sensation (facing the Flash),” said Tovar, “but nice because I love the San Diego Sockers because they gave me the opportunity to be part of the most winning institution in the league and I leave everything for this jersey, but playing against the team that gave me the opportunity to play professionally and winning a championship with them was something very special that I will never forget, so I have mixed feelings.”
“For us, it’s is not a regular game,” said Flash President Gerardo Guerra Lozano. “First because Tovar is coming to his hometown and second we are focused on the home field advantage more than just being unbeaten.”
Surely less sentimental because of the passage of time, but no less notable are Bollella and Flash forward Chile Farias, who were teammates on the Sockers many moons ago. Bollella last played for them in 2004/05 and Farias in 2002/03.
It’s hard to tell if Monterrey had a home field edge in Sunday’s game because, while the Flash do enjoy a 7-0 home record this year, they are also 7-0 on the road.
“It’s always a difficult task playing away from home especially down in Mexico,” said Clare. “Of course we would like to go down there and get a victory to show everyone that our team is a championship caliber team, and to get home field advantage in the playoffs would be huge for us, but we also know that what we have is a team who can do it at home and also on the road. We have to establish a rhythm early on in the game or they will capitalize on opportunities and this game isn’t a game we can afford to lose.”
The Sockers feature a decidedly younger look than the Flash. San Diego has meted out playing time to its older players this year. Ze Roberto (39), Eduardo Velez (36), Anthony Medina (38), and Brian Farber (35) have all seen their playing time limited and Victor Quiroz (41) was traded to Sonora earlier this season. The Sockers have 12 players under the age of 30 on their active roster. Only eight Monterrey players are under 30 and nine players are 35 or older.
Monterrey doesn’t have any players in the MASL’s top 10 in scoring, but they have 10 players who have reached double digits in points. Plus, Lourenco Andrade made his season debut on January 25. Andrade led the Flash in scoring in 2014/15 before their hiatus. Edgar “Chapa” Flores and Erick “Kire” Flores lead the Flash in scoring with 26 and 22 points, respectively.
The Sockers roster also features great offensive capability from top to bottom, but they are more reliant on their superstar Kraig Chiles. Chiles has 24 goals, and his 33 points are 11 more than second place Tovar, despite missing three games.
Both teams feature goalkeeping tandems who share significant time, but Monterrey’s Diego Reynoso and San Diego’s Chris Toth are likely to get the nod Sunday.