Matt Barnes’ squad was full of promise after a stellar season in 2014. His inaugural season did not see the team in the playoffs, but showed vast improvement from the previous few seasons. The goal coming into 2015 was to qualify for the Premier Developmental League playoffs and challenge for the league title. Even with a myriad of injuries and roster moves, the team was still, arguably, the most successful team in franchise history.
The Sockers were elated to get the news in late April that they would be playing in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. The most prestigious tournament in the United States, getting invited to the Open Cup was a huge step for the franchise. However, Barnes was not satisfied with simply being invited. On May 13, Sockers FC hosted the Tulsa Athletics in their first ever Open Cup game. The game took place only a few days after most of the team had arrived. Although they lacked experience playing together, they were led by veterans Walker and Tucker Hume to take down Tulsa, 3-1. The victory meant that they would host OKC Energy of the USL in the second round. The Energy proved to have just enough of it to outlast the worn down Sockers squad, playing its third game in seven days, by a score of 3-1.
The PDL season got off to a hot start for the Sockers. They defeated their first three opponents, including a shellacking of rival Laredo. The 4-0 home victory against Laredo, the worst loss in Laredo Heat history, not only catapulted the squad to the top of the table early in the season, but it also made them the number one ranked team in the PDL. However, the success would not come easy. The months of June and July were not good to Sockers FC and they went 3-6-3 over 12 games. Yet, it was not enough to keep them from making history. For the first time since their inaugural season in 2009, Sockers FC were playoff bound. Needing four points from its last two games to clinch a division title, what could have been the first in team history, the team went on the road as a determined squad. The first game brought on worse news than could have been anticipated. Failing to secure a win or a tie was painful for the squad, but that wasn’t the largest loss. Walker Hume, a University of North Carolina product and team captain, felt some discomfort in the team’s pregame warmup. The pain held him out of the game and was later discovered that he had fractured a bone in his foot. The defense had been one of the brightest areas of the 2015 season, but with the loss of Hume and, his partner in the central defense, University of San Francisco defender Christian De Luna to injuries, the back line was not as stout as it once was heading into the playoffs.
The struggle down the stretch can be attributed to the loss of a few key players in the midfield. Andrew Fox, an early candidate for Most Valuable Player, was given a tryout with Peterborough United of England’s League One. Fox impressed, as he did in Midland where he notched three goals and three assists in six games, and was given a contract to continue playing in England, his home country. The loss of the free kick sniper became more detrimental whenever the team lost his running mate. Fabio Pena, a returner from the 2014 squad, took advantage of a career opportunity off of the pitch and was forced to miss the remainder of the season. Filling those two voids in the midfield became an even more daunting task following the home victory against the Brilla on June 27th. That game was played without Pena and Fox, but following the game the team also lost Jesus Bolivar and Andrew Lopez, both members of the University of North Carolina men’s soccer team and had played in every game to that point, due to undisclosed obligations. That was four of the five rotating midfield starters, only Grand Canyon University’s Alberto Garcia remained, that had departed with six regular season games to play. The second half of the season saw a new starting cast in the middle, but very little drop off in talent. Johnny Denton, Manuel Lira, and Jesus Cortes filled the voids and were able to propel the squad into the playoffs.
After the barrage of injuries and misfortunes to the defense and midfield, Tucker Hume and Danny Riley had a lot of weight on their shoulders. The Ocala Stampede had won the Southeast Division of the PDL for three consecutive seasons. The playoffs, featuring the top two teams in the Mid-South and Southeast Divisions, took place in hot and humid Mississippi. Ocala came into the playoffs a favorite to advance to the Final Four, but first had to get past the gritty, but wounded, Sockers FC. The Sockers came out firing and controlled the tempo through most of the first half. Goalkeeping, another staple of the 2015 season, was tremendous by Nico Corti. Corti, Sean Boyle, and Caleb Jenkins, on the season, had combined for five shutouts and had only allowed 14 goals in 15 games, led by Boyle’s franchise record .970 goals against average after only conceding four goals in five games. That stifling goalkeeping was looking to outlast Ocala for the first playoff victory in franchise history. However, Riley, four goals on the year, and Tucker Hume, five goals, were unable to penetrate the Stampede back line. In the 80th minute, Sockers FC took a devastating blow. Corti, in attempt to protect his net from a breakaway opportunity, fouled an Ocala attacker inside the penalty area. There would be no late game heroics for the Sockers and they would fall one-nil.
There is a lot to build on going into next season, but a lot of strides were made this season. The Open Cup victory proves that this a rising franchise within the PDL and the playoff berth solidifies that notion. Matt Barnes and his staff, Johnny Clifford and Nuno Gourgel, continued to see evidence of their coaching style and philosophy succeeding through accolades and franchise records. Isaac Sanchez and Walker Hume were both selected to the All-Southern Conference Team and Sanchez, who played for Barnes at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and brings invaluable leadership to the team, was selected to the All-PDL Team. It is not surprising that the two defenders were selected after the defensive performance by the team in 2015.
Although the team was unable to produce goals as often as last season, notching 24 compared to last season’s 26, its defense was stingy only allowing a franchise-low, 14 goals. Walker’s twin brother, Tucker, paved his way into the career record books in a couple of categories. After setting the single-season record for assists in 2014, Hume tallied two more this season to up his career total to seven, breaking the previous record of six held by Dominic Furness. His five goals also pushes his career total to nine which places him third on the all-time leading scorers list, just behind Sockers legends Joe Munoz and Ben Everson. His assists and goals come out to total 25 career points placing him second all-time behind Munoz, 34. Corti, who joined the team late from Stanford University, tied the single-season record for shutouts in a season and joins Boyle, .970 GAA and first on the list, in the record books with a 1.163 GAA, placing him in third.
The 2015 season came and went very quickly. Heading into 2016, Barnes will once again evaluate how is squad fared this year and will take the necessary steps to reach the goal Sockers FC has set for themselves. Coming off of the second playoff berth in franchise history, the table is set for Sockers FC to make major waves in 2016.
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