Medina is back in the fold and so must be the Sockers

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Attacking midfielder Anthony Medina has earned accolades as the iron man of the San Diego Sockers. He celebrated his return to the team by scoring a pair of goals in a 12-1 Major Arena Soccer League victory against the Turlock Express on Saturday, Oct. 29, at the Valley View Casino Center.

One of the original members of the Sockers’ revival squad in 2008, the Valhalla High School alumnus is entering his eighth season with the team.

Attacking midfielder Anthony Medina has earned accolades as the iron man of the San Diego Sockers. He celebrated his return to the team by scoring a pair of goals in a 12-1 Major Arena Soccer League victory against the Turlock Express on Saturday, Oct. 29, at the Valley View Casino Center.

One of the original members of the Sockers’ revival squad in 2008, the Valhalla High School alumnus is entering his eighth season with the team.

He is hoping to win his fifth championship with the team.

“I like the creativity in the game,” Medina explained in a YouTube video interview. “I think to play soccer you have to have all the abilities whereas in some sports you don’t have to have the full package. In soccer you have to have al the qualities to be a good soccer player.”

Medina played in 23 games last season, recording 11 goals and seven assists for 18 points. He was the only Sockers player to appear in all 48 games of the team’s United States professional team sports record winning streak that ended in January 2013.

Medina, now 37, entered this season with 120 games under his cleats in the MASL and its predecessor league, the Professional Arena Soccer League, with 85 goals and 55 assists (140 points) to his credit.

The Sockers won PASL championships in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013.

Medina is now a licensed real-estate agent and YMCA youth volunteer during his spare time. He played high school soccer for the Norsemen, then at the University of San Francisco. But that was the outdoor game. 

Medina has proven a more than successful convert to the indoor game.

“It’s a completely different game,” Medina explained in the YouTube interview. “It has the basics — trapping, passing, shooting. But as far as game fitness and how the game is played, it’s completely different. It takes time getting used to. The basic fundamentals of soccer are still there but you’ve got to get used to the boards, quick passing and line changes.”

The Sockers, buoyed from four new player signings during the offseason, looked like world champions against the Express in their 2016-17 MASL debut. Veteran Kraig Chiles recorded a first-half hat trick and tacked on two assists to earn Player of the Game honors.

Chiles entered the game second all-time in Sockers scoring with 281 goals. He now trails the legendary Branko Segota (298 career goals) by 14 goals entering Saturday’s game against the archrival Dallas Sidekicks.

Another Sockers’ veteran, Eddie “Vaquero” Velez, scored twice in the first half as the Sockers roared to a 9-0 halftime lead.

Medina scored the final goal in the first half and added another in the second half.

Newcomer Max Touloute scored two goals while Brazilian Luan Oliveria chipped in with one goal as did fellow returners Raymundo Reza and Erick Tovar.

Goalkeeper Chris Toth stopped 21 of 22 shots he faced to pick up the win. His cat-like moves mimicked those of his famous father Zoltan Toth, who guarded the net for the original Sockers franchise.

The younger Toth made several amazing saves that elicited gasps – and cheers — from the 3,025 in attendance.

The Sockers, wearing their snappy new blue home kit, were faster than their opponent and showed much more creativity.

Chiles said team management has put together a very well balanced team this season — “a good group of veteran players, some very talented players who are in the best form of their lives — and, younger energetic players who have something to prove.”

New horizons

The MASL continues to improve its professional image. The league features 17 teams this season spread across four geographic divisions. Each team will play 20 regular season games.

Teams are split into two conferences with nine teams in the Eastern Conference (Central and Eastern divisions) and eight in the Western Conference (Pacific and Southwest divisions). The top two teams from each division will qualify for post-season playoffs.

The Sockers compete in the Pacific Division alongside Turlock, the Ontario Fury and Tacoma Stars.

The Southwest Division is comprised of Athletico Baja, based in Tijuana and coached by Southwest High School alumnus Rene Ortiz, as well as the Sidekicks, El Paso Coyotes and Sonora Suns.

The Central Division includes the Cedar Rapids Rampage, Chicago Mustangs, Milwaukee Wave, Kansas City Comets and St. Louis Ambush.

The Eastern Division includes the Baltimore Blast, Florida Tropics SC, Harrisburg Heat and Syracuse Silver Knights.

The Blast (2015-16 Eastern Conference champion) defeated the Suns (2015-16 Western Conference champion) in last season MASL championship series.

El Paso and Florida are both expansion franchises.

The Sockers lost to Sonora in the Western Conference finals.

Teams not returning in 2016-17 include the Las Vegas Legends, Sacramento Surge, Santillo Rancho Seco, Brownsville Barracudas and Waza Flo (Detroit).

Getting their kicks

Loyal Sockers fan Evan Mundine was in attendance at the season opener. The Texas teenager, who suffers from eight rare diseases, viewed the game from a wheelchair at field level. He remains thankful to the Sockers for all what they have done for him in accommodating visits to San Diego to view games.

He admitted he’s excited for the new season. “I’ve been watching them train and they seem to have a lot of energy,” he said.

Veteran Sockers midfielder Brian Farber did not dress for the season opener but is primed to play this season. “We’re excited that we’re back for another season,” Farber explained. “We’ve lost some players but have new players come in. I think we’ll do well. We have a favorable schedule.”

Norbert Stein, the Sockers’ oldest fan at 103, also attended the home opener. He gave a pre-game talk to the team—something that energizes both him and the team.

“I shouted ‘Hooray, hooray!’ – you make my day!” the centenarian explained upon greeting the team’s newcomers. “Congratulations and cheer now that you are here.”

Sockers head coach Phil Salvagio has made Stein’s pre-game speeches a tradition for the team. “I’m the only man in America, my beloved land, who can talk in front of an audience – big or small – without a paper in hand,” Stein served up.

At 100, Stein hoisted the Ron Newman Cup, the league’s championship trophy, during the team’s 2013 on-field championship celebration on the arena floor.

An award-winning poet, he came up with a rhyme appropriate for the occasion. “Soccer is a challenging game to endeavor, 48 will be ours forever.”

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