Ontario Collapses Late in 7-6 Overtime Defeat at San Diego

by Gunnar Berndt

Outstanding Toth unable to prevent attacking heroics by Sockers’ Donovan, Escoto

By Gunnar Berndt

San Diego, Calif. – When it comes to close games and turning strong displays into victories, it appears it’s just not meant to be for the Ontario Fury this season. Playing away from home, Head Coach Jimmy Nordberg’s men had the Major Arena Soccer League (MASL)-leading San Diego Sockers on the verge of defeat on Sunday evening, only to fall 7-6 in overtime after seeing a two-goal lead in the fourth quarter evaporate.

While ex-Sockers netminder Chris Toth put in a world-class shift for Ontario, recording a head-turning 20 saves, he was unable to prevent three-point performances from San Diego’s dynamic attacking duo of superstar Landon Donovan (one goal, two assists) and fellow midfielder Brandon Escoto (three assists). Forward Kraig Chiles had the day’s golden goal.

The Fury put on a clinic in chance conversion in the opening period, which they closed with a 2-1 advantage despite being outshot by a wide margin. Ontario’s Andy Reyes opened the scoring on a setup play by Juan Carlos Gonzalez, followed by a trio of outstanding blocks by Toth. First the 29-year-old came up with a stunning double-save to deny the Sockers’ Escoto and Chiles. Then his point-blank stop frustrated Hiram Ruiz.

Forward Jeff Hughes subsequently punished the hosts for the missed opportunities, firing just underneath netminder Pavel Pardo to double the visitors’ advantage. After Donovan rattled the left post at the other end, the U.S. legend did help cut his side’s deficit in half by picking out former Fury ace Leonardo de Oliveira.

In the second quarter, Toth continued to stand on his head to deny his ex-club the equalizer on two different occasions. Having kept out an Escoto rocket, he produced another fantastic save against the Sockers midfielder, this time going fully outstretched to deflect the ball just wide with the fingertips of his left hand. Ontario’s Tino Nunez then had a chance to re-establish his team’s old lead, but his toe-poke from close range bounced off the crossbar.

The home side subsequently executed beautifully on a picture-perfect Raymundo Contreras pass from near the center circle that was smashed into the upper ninety by Travis Pittman to make it 2-2 with seven seconds left on the clock.

In the third period, San Diego picked up right where it had left off before the halftime break, Cesar Cerda receiving the ball from Escoto and blasting an absolute rocket inside the left upright from way outside the area. But the Sockers’ lead would not last long, as Fury defender Maicon de Abreu scored on an Evan McNeley ball to tie things up on a power play. McNeley then found the net himself, blasting a free-kick from the top of the arc off the hands of netminder Pavel Pardo to put the visitors ahead 4-3.

While the the home side tallied on a power play of its own to equalize at 4-4, the visitors were determined to make life difficult for the four-time champions, and they were rewarded in the form of the go-ahead goal by De Abreu. The 22-year-old Brazilian was in the right place the the right time, as he cleaned up at the doorstep following an excellent outstretched parry by goalkeeper Pardo to deny Ontario captain Israel Sesay.

The Fury extended its advantage to 6-4 in the final quarter of regulation time, a streaking Reyes completing his brace by rifling a shot across the frame and into the upper ninety from an impossible angle. However, just as it seemed the visitors might for once convert a convincing showing and a narrow fourth-quarter lead into a win, San Diego stormed back with two consecutive goals before the end of the 60 minutes.

After Escoto set up Chiles for a power play tally and Ontario’s Francisco Cordeiro sent a shot off the left post, De Oliveira picked the perfect time for his second of the contest, as he capitalized on his squad’s use of a sixth attacker by sending a deflected effort into the net. The tally made it 6-6 with less than three minutes left to play. It was the familiar frustrating story for Ontario in overtime, Chiles ending the day’s proceedings by making it 7-6 on a brilliant ball off the boards by Donovan.

Trailing the Tacoma Stars in the hunt for the all-important second place in the Pacific Division playoff picture, the Fury faces an absolute must-win road match against player-coach Nick Perera’s men this coming Friday, March 15. The Inland Empire club then returns home for what could be another huge contest, as it takes on the El Paso Coyotes on Sunday, March 24. Tickets to all Fury games at Citizens Business Bank Arena may be purchased by clicking here or by calling 909-457-0252.