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Sockers kick into high gear at season’s end

DEL MAR — It took 11 games and a trip to Canada for the revived San Diego Sockers to be handed the first loss of their inaugural season, but the region’s professional indoor soccer team is still in great shape to make the playoffs for the U.S. Open Arena Soccer Championship.
The 28-member team of mostly North County natives lost to Calgary United 6-4 on Jan. 9, but a Miguel “Chiky” Luna goal 20 seconds into overtime the following night against the Edmonton Drillers allowed the team to return home from the two-day road trip with an impressive 11-1 record.
Coach Phil Salvagio said a playoff appearance is guaranteed if the team wins four of the remaining six games against teams the Sockers have already defeated this season.
The Sockers began in 1974 as the Baltimore Comets. Within a year, they moved to Southern California, where they were renamed San Diego Jaws. The team relocated to Las Vegas in 1977, but a year later returned to San Diego and became known as the Sockers.
During the next two decades, the team won eight championships between 1983 and 1992 and switched leagues a handful of times before folding for the first time after the 1996 season. The team was revived in 2001 but folded again three years later.
Salvagio said he and his partners structured the current team so “it can survive for many years” by cutting the previous $2 million budget in half. Most of the cost savings come from Salvagio’s salary since he serves as general manager as well as head coach.
He said the key to the team’s success on the field is age. “In the rest of the league, the average age is 22 or 23,” Salvagio said. “Ours is 30.”
Normally youth is an advantage in professional sports. “Not on this team,” Salvagio said. “We have a great mix of a lot of older players so we have experience and good chemistry. They’re fighting for each other and willing to play defense. They’ve got each other’s backs on and off the field.”
This season’s lineup includes players who range in age from 22 to 42 and eight who wore a Sockers jersey in previous seasons.
As a former Socker himself, Salvagio said he brings a slightly different coaching style. “These guys know their bodies better than I do so we have optional practices for the older players,” he said. “Actually, they seem to practice more that way. It’s a fun atmosphere.”
The players seem to agree. “It’s exciting,” said Aaron Susi, a returning forward who scored the winning goal in an overtime game against the Cougars, the defending champions, earlier this month. “There’s a good mixture of veterans, guys playing together for a lot of years.
“It’s good to be back and doing so well,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll get back to the championship game and win this time.”
The Sockers have only three regular-season home games left. They play the Texas Outlaws at 6:15 p.m. on Jan. 16 at the Del Mar Fairgrounds Arena. After that, the guys are on the road until Feb. 26, when they return for two more home games before the finals, which begin here March 4.
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