MIDLAND — An unfamiliar result will lead to an unfamiliar sight in the Premier Development League standings on Friday morning.
For the first time in franchise history, Sockers FC (4-2-1, 13 points) lost to the Mississippi Brilla (4-1-2, 14 points), falling, 1-0, on Thursday night at Grande Communications Stadium. With the win, the Brilla assume the lead position in the PDL Mid-South, marking the first time in 2015 that the Sockers are not in first place.
After a scoreless first half, Brilla forward Kellen Gulley scored the only goal of the match in the 63rd minute, after a defensive breakdown on a throw in. A sloppy pass between Fabio Pena and Omar Lawrence went out of bounds about 60 yards from the Sockers net. However, a quick throw by the Brilla went deep into Sockers territory and allowed Gulley to expose the pressed up defense with his speed. Once he entered the box he scored off of a rebound from his shot that was originally saved by Sockers goalkeeper Nico Corti.
Making his second start for the Sockers, Corti had an eventful evening, earning his first career red card for an aggressive tackle in the 79th minute. He was replaced by Sean Boyle, and defender Omar Lawrence left the pitch on Corti’s behalf. Boyle made a brilliant save on a late opportunity by the Brilla to keep the game in reach. It was another example of the strength and depth the Sockers have at goalkeeper, where Boyle, Corti, Caleb Jenkins, and Joe Melong have held PDL opponents to four goals in seven matches while racking up 18 saves.
Playing a man down for the final ten minutes of regulation and stoppage time, the Sockers could not make a serious threat against a strong and physical Mississippi defense. The best opportunity came in stoppage time. Walker Hume found himself in the penalty box with a bouncing ball at his feet. He turned and volleyed a shot at goal, but, as with many quality opportunities in the game, went just over the bar. Although they managed 13 shots on goal, the Sockers’ normally potent offense could not get on the scoreboard. That is not unusual for a Mississippi side that has allowed only seven goals in as many games all season. They allowed outside midfielders Jesus “Chuy” Cortes, making his season debut, and Beto Garcia to take a lot of space, but were air-tight in the middle. The Sockers have yet to lose a PDL match in which they score a goal (5-0-1) and, even with the loss, have an astounding plus-14 goal differential.
“It’s simple: when we don’t score, we don’t win,” said Jeff VonHolle, Sockers assistant general manager and director of soccer operations. “We knew the Brilla were going to be very tough, and we definitely need to play better.”
Prior to tonight’s match, the Sockers had been 3-0-0 all-time against the Brilla, who joined the Mid-South last season.
The Sockers fell to second place in the division, two points ahead of the Laredo Heat (3-5-2, 11 points). The top two teams in the division will qualify for the PDL playoffs.
Disappointed with the loss, the Sockers have an opportunity to reclaim the division lead on Saturday when they face the Brilla again at Grande. In a scheduling quirk, the two teams will then travel to Mississippi for another two games on July 3 and 5, meaning they play four consecutive matches. Coach Barnes expressed that it is imperative for the team to come away with no less than six points from this four-game stretch.
On Saturday, the first 400 fans will receive a free Sockers cap. The Sockers have not lost back-to-back games this season and only once during Barnes’ tenure, in the first two matches of the 2014 season. Gates open at 7 p.m., with kickoff at 7:30 p.m.
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