DEL MAR — The wait for San Diego Sockers fans was finally over when the revived professional indoor soccer team took to the field to pick up where their championship brethren left off nearly five years ago.
The Sockers played the Stars of Mexico in a preseason game Nov. 7 that kicked off their first season since the franchise folded in 2004.
Playing in the Western Conference of the Professional Arena Soccer League, which has 54 teams in 10 divisions across the United States, the Sockers will host 12 home games this season at the newly renovated Del Mar Arena at the Del Mar Fairgrounds.
With the Sockers past championship banners — a total of 10 dating back to the early 1980s — hung above their new home field, the Sockers wasted little time in establishing their presence.
Donning electric blue uniforms with yellow socks, the Sockers scored their first goal midway through the first period during a three to two break on a shot by midfielder Miguel “Chiky” Luna.
The first period ended with the Sockers commanding a 3-1 lead after veteran goalie Riley Swift held off a fury of last second shots by the Stars of Mexico, which consists of players from the Mexican National Futobo Rapido Team, including Ivan Medina and Luis “El Matador” Hernandez.
Halfway through the third period the Stars of Mexico had fought their way back and tied the game at 5-5. The nearly filled-to-capacity Del Mar Arena erupted into chants of “Sockers, Sockers, Sockers!” Riding the wave of excitement, veteran forward Paul Wright scored the Sockers’ sixth goal with 0:36 left in the third period.
The Sockers went on to win the game 9-5 with Luna tallying the last goal, his second of the game. Officials called the game at 2:05 in the fourth period after the Stars of Mexico’s Guadalupe “El Lupillo” Castaneda suffered a head injury. Castaneda, who was able to move all of his extremities, was taken to the hospital for a further examination. He is expected to make a full recovery.
The Del Mar Arena — which seats 3,500 and recently underwent a $14 million renovation — brought Sockers fans closer to the action than the aging San Diego Sports Arena where the previous indoor teams had played.
“This is beautiful,” said Wright, who played on the Sockers championship teams of the early 1990s at the San Diego Sports Arena. “This really feels like home. I love how close everyone is on top of us.”
Fans could be heard stomping in their seats, banging the boards and heckling players, which led to Hernandez, Mexico’s third all-time leading scorer with 35 goals in 85 appearances, confronting fans in the field box seats.
Eventually, officials ejected Hernandez during the fourth period after getting called for a kicking penalty and then getting into a argument with Sockers head coach and General Manager Phil Salvagio.
Following the game, Salvagio, a former Sockers goalie, admitted it wasn’t right that he got into it with Hernandez, but said he basically told the Mexican star his actions that led to the penalty were not appropriate.
Citing the passion and physical play of Saturday night’s game, Salvagio said he believed the game was a great example of what makes professional indoor soccer so exciting for fans.
“I think all the games are going to be that way,” Salvagio said.
The Sockers open their season on the road against the Denver Dynamite on Nov. 14. Their home opener will be Nov. 20 against the defending champion Stockton Cougars.