New on SocTakes: MASL Preview: East Division

MASL

Image credit: MASL

MLS and the USL are approaching or have already begun their postseasons. And while that does mean that there’s less soccer to appreciate, it doesn’t mean one has to turn to European leagues for entertainment. Why not play inside instead?

Yes, it’s almost time for the Major Arena Soccer League season to begin. This season brings the return of the Dallas Sidekicks, a handful of offseason moves, a new team in Canada with Dwayne De Rosario and yet another realignment. Of course, we’ll dive in to all the details, but first a primer on arena soccer for anyone unfamiliar.

The sport of arena soccer dates back to the original NASL days, with the first tournament staged in March 1971. The rules, oddly enough, haven’t changed much since. The sport is fairly straightforward: take a hockey rink, boards and all, and cover it with turf. Remove the center walls at both ends and stick a half-sized goal in that space. Play with five field players and a goalie, with unlimited free substitution and the boards in play as in hockey or box lacrosse. There are even two-minute “blue card” penalties that result in a powerplay for the other team. The only major rule departure is the clock; a game is divided into four 15-minute quarters.

So, that’s the sport in a nutshell. Higher scoring, fast paced and very, very fun to watch. Onto the league itself.

The Major Arena Soccer League is the top professional league in the sport of arena soccer. Originally founded as the Professional Arena Soccer League in 2008, the league rebranded for the 2014-15 season with the admission of six remaining Major Indoor Soccer League teams. Currently, 17 teams are set to contest the upcoming 2018-19 season.

The league is divided into two conferences, Eastern and Western, with each conference further divided into two divisions in line with previous divisional alignments the league has used. However, there has been movement among teams, leading to a new map for this season, and a few oddities that I’ll be pointing out along the way.

The league has been pretty fantastic regarding the fan experience whether it’s actually attending a game or streaming online through YouTube.

For this piece, to minimize excessive lengthiness and hold myself to two #HipsterManifestos per fortnight, I’ll be dividing up the season review/preview segments into four separate articles by division, starting here with the Eastern Division in the Eastern Conference. (Note: The season in parentheses after a founding date indicates the first season played in MASL.)

Baltimore Blast – Towson, Md.

  • Founded: 1992 (2014-15)
  • Home venue: SECU Arena (4,000)
  • Head coach: Danny Kelly
  • Last season: 17-5, first in Eastern Division, won championship
  • Average attendance: 3,941, fourth

Baltimore has always been a stronghold for arena soccer and this past season was no exception. The team finished first in its division for the fourth-consecutive MASL season, finished with a winning record for the 11th-consecutive season across three leagues and won their third-consecutive MASL championship. Baltimore is the benchmark for the rest of the league, full stop. Coach Danny Kelly always manages to get results no matter what sort of roster turnover he’s forced to confront, and it’s a safe bet for Baltimore to win the division again.

Harrisburg Heat – Harrisburg, Pa.

  • Founded: 2012
  • Home venue: New Holland Arena (7,317)
  • Head coach: Pat Healey
  • Last season: 6-16, fourth in Eastern Division, DNQ
  • Average attendance: 1,459, 14th

Harrisburg has consistently struggled since joining the league for the 2012-13 season, going 2-18 in 2014-15 and 1-18 in 2015-16. Then, they seemed to figure things out, finishing 10-10 and 2nd in their division two years ago. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to have been a permanent change, with Harrisburg regressing to a disappointing mean last season. To address this, they’ve brought in the father-son duo of Kevin and Pat Healey from Baltimore, which is pretty much the smartest possible move the team could have made. Already, the Heat have a better-looking roster than a year ago and could very easily start taking the fight to Baltimore. I’m excited.

MASL

Image credit: MASL

Mississisauga MetroStars – Mississauga, Ontario

  • Founded: 2018
  • Home venue: Paramount Fine Foods Centre (5,612)
  • Head coach: Phil Ionadi
  • New for 2018-19

Professional arena soccer has finally returned to Canada, with the Mississauga MetroStars set to contest the upcoming season. Mississauga, located due west of Toronto, is occasionally considered a suburb of Canada’s largest city but is big enough to stand on its own. The MetroStars are the only true expansion team in the MASL this season, and as a result, are the one team without meaningful data to adequately preview the upcoming season. I’ll just end with this: The MetroStars coaxed Dwayne De Rosario out of retirement for their inaugural season.

Utica City FC – Utica, N.Y.

  • Founded: 2010 (2014-15)
  • Home venue: Adirondack Bank Center (3,860)
  • Head coach: Ryan Hall
  • Last season: 13-9, 2nd in Eastern Division, lost division final
  • Average attendance: 2,398, 10th

During the offseason, the Syracuse Silver Knights relocated 50 miles east to Utica and rebranded as Utica City FC in partnership with the Utica Comets in the AHL. This gives the team a much bigger and wealthier front office, while keeping the fairly successful soccer side intact. The Silver Knights did pretty well last season, too, only losing by a single goal each in two playoff games against Baltimore. A comfortable expectation for the first season in Utica is modest growth on the field and more substantial growth off.

Follow John on Twitter: @JohnMLTX.

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