It doesn’t matter what the sport is. The playoffs bring an increased amount of intensity. And it was plenty intense inside Las Vegas Sports Park on Saturday night.
But the Las Vegas Legends had enough stars to handle the pressure. Enrique Tovar, Ivan Campos and Alex Caceres, the Legends’ top three scorers, tallied early in the fourth quarter, propelling Las Vegas into the Professional Arena Soccer League semifinals with an 11-7 win over the San Diego Sockers.
Las Vegas advanced to the Newman Cup semifinals March 15 in Chicago, where it will face Hidalgo La Fiera FC. The Legends also ended San Diego’s four-year reign as PASL champions.
“Last year, they knocked us out in the Final Four, and now it’s our turn,” team owner and coach Meir Cohen said. “It’s sweet revenge.”
Las Vegas’ Luis Piffer had broken a 4-4 tie with a goal with 3.3 seconds remaining in the third quarter. Forty-seven seconds into the final period, Tovar, the team’s points leader with 62, sent a long, looping ball from deep in his half of the field that San Diego goaltender Chris Toth misplayed. The ball sailed over Toth’s head and bounced into the empty goal to make the score 6-4. Forty-seven seconds later, Caceres outraced the Sockers’ defense and beat Toth to make it 7-4.
The Sockers cut the deficit to 7-5 with 10 minutes remaining, but Campos, the team’s top goal-scorer, launched a right-footed rocket that went under the crossbar and in, giving the Legends a three-goal cushion again.
The goal appeared to take what little life was left in the Sockers, as the Legends increased the lead to 11-5 with three minutes remaining.
“I’ve done that before, but I haven’t tried it this season,” Tovar said of his unorthodox goal. “I knew if we kept them from scoring we were going to get our chances and going to score goals, and that’s exactly what happened.”
Until the Legends finally exploded in the fourth quarter offensively, they found themselves locked in a defensive struggle. Goalkeeper Zeke Sanchez came up big on several occasions, as the Sockers were unable to sustain any offensive momentum. He was beaten 24 seconds into the game by San Diego’s Brian Farber, but Sanchez settled down and finished with 15 saves while his defense helped out with numerous blocks of San Diego shots, several from point-blank range.
The teams had split their season series, each winning in the other’s building. But the Sports Park, with its quirky design (one end has all Plexiglas boards, and the other is a combination of wood and glass) and its intimate capacity (the crowd was announced at 600) certainly helped the Legends.
“It’s all about heart,” Cohen said. “Both teams wanted it badly, and both teams were exhausted. But we knew we needed to finish it, and that’s what we did. It’s a great moment for the franchise, and we still have some work left to do. But (Saturday) is something we’ll remember for a long time.”
Contact reporter Steve Carp at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.