Month: May 2019

New on SocTakes: MASL season recaps: Florida, Orlando, St. Louis, Mississauga, Harrisburg

Image credit: MASL

The Major Arena Soccer League (MASL) season has concluded. This was a year of change for the MASL, with Syracuse moving to Utica, new teams in Orlando and Mississauga joining, and the return of the Dallas Sidekicks from hiatus. Attendance dropped for a third-consecutive season, which is worrying, but the league also landed a broadcast agreement with Eleven Sports.

Last time, I recapped the four non-playoff teams in the West. Now, it’s time to cover the five teams that didn’t make the postseason in the Eastern Conference: the Florida Tropics, Orlando SeaWolves, Mississauga MetroStars, St. Louis Ambush and Harrisburg Heat. You know the drill.

Florida Tropics SC – Lakeland, Fla.

  • Record: 6-18, -47 GD, fifth in South Central
  • Attendance: 2,449, eighth, +0.7%

All of the progress the Tropics made on the floor seemed to vanish this past season. The team couldn’t find any meaningful consistency and couldn’t string two wins together to save its life. After opening the year with a convincing win against St. Louis, they were blown out by Mississauga, and that really set the tone. They finished with just a single win on the road and got swept by Milwaukee. Yes, this is a tough division, but last season’s Tropics managed to do better in an even tougher one.

As always, there’s a game that encapsulates their season, in this case, the season finale on the road in Orlando. The Tropics scored first, and then gave up three, and went to halftime down 3-2. They tied it up in the third, and then tied it up again early in the fourth, only to concede twice in the final quarter to end their season with another loss. Not great.

What was great, however, was the rise of Victor Parreiras. He had easily his best season to date, with 17 goals and 13 assists to lead the team in scoring. His goals in four straight games in February helped keep playoff hopes alive for as long as possible. In front of him, Ricardo De Queiroz Diegues posted another strong season, leading the team with 24 goals despite a suspension and missing five games. Antonio Manfut was a great midseason acquisition from the Ambush, who scored 11 goals and assisted eight more after moving to Lakeland. JP Reyes had a fantastic season in defense, with solid performances as well from Caio Ruiz and Anthony Arico. In goal, Hugo Silva was definitely good enough given the issues the team had, and while he’s not likely to make an all-league team, he’s the sort of grinder a team like the Tropics need.

For Florida, the biggest consistent problem was on offense. They conceded 172 goals, which is right in line with Orlando and St. Louis, but their offense was by far the weakest in the division. One more 15-20 goal scorer and they’re within reach of the playoffs with at least four or five more wins from games they ended up losing by a goal or two.

Off the field, attendance is stable, and the Tropics organization at large continues to grow. They’re not just involved in MASL, they’re also in USL League Two with rumors of a professional outdoor team in the near future. They’ve also worked to build one of the largest soccer academies in the state, and as all of this continues to grow, their indoor side will perform better and better.

Orlando SeaWolves – Kissimmee, Fla.

  • Record: 9-15, -32 GD, fouth in South Central
  • Attendance: 1,127, 13th

On the field, Orlando made their “debut” in the MASL with a strong core from the former Cedar Rapids Rampage, including the lethal midfielder Gordy Gurson and tough-as-nails goalkeeper Rainer Hauss. Both of them, plus the rest of their primary starters, had excellent seasons. The problems were everywhere else.

No game illustrates this better than the loss in Harrisburg on March 23. The Heat opened the game with three goals in the first that left Orlando chasing the rest of the night. At halftime, Harrisburg led 8-6, with the SeaWolves still very much in it. An amazing third quarter from Gurson saw Orlando tie things up with barely 90 seconds remaining in the quarter before the floodgates opened. Harrisburg scored five unanswered to win it 15-10.

Gurson led the team in every offensive metric, with 34 goals and 24 assists, including five game-winning goals. He never got sent off and spent just seven minutes in the box all season. Osvaldo Rojas added another 23 goals of his own en route to a 33-point season, and Thiago Freitas managed 14 goals and 15 assists in just 15 games following a move from Harrisburg. That’s the offensive core that any team would die for.

But that’s about it. Their next best forward, Elmo Neto, managed just five goals and four assists. Only three other attacking players managed double-digit points. Richard Schmermund and Joshio Sandoval were great defenders, and Edwin Rojas was solid in his own half, but that was it. Derek Huffman spent more time suspended or in the box than on the field, Drou Goff was just bad, and leaning on Piotr Sliwa to back up Hauss didn’t work.

There are seven or eight players that they need to keep around, and if they upgrade literally everything else, they’ll probably be fine. Probably.

Off the field, for all of the hype of a brand-new team, attendance was just bad. In their inaugural game, they drew a respectable crowd of 2,478, then fell off a cliff. Game two dropped to 1,485, game three to 1,312 and then we saw crowds firmly below 1,000 for much of midseason. Leading up to their final game of the season, they were consistently below 1,000 and only managed 1,315 for the finale. Not good, and potentially very worrying.

Hopefully they survive for another season. There’s a good core here and a strong market that loves soccer. Maybe they need to move from Kisssimee to Orlando proper, to something like Addition Financial Arena.

St. Louis Ambush – St. Charles, Mo.

  • Record: 10-14, -29 GD, third in South Central
  • Attendance: 2,553, seventh, -2%

St. Louis once again finished outside the playoffs, but in all honesty, they’re the most improved team in their division by far. They won more games this past season than in their previous three combined and managed to keep attendance relatively stable. They’re definitely rebuilding, but it looks like the worst might be over.

The game that illustrates their current situation best was the season finale at home against Milwaukee. After trading blows for much of the first half, they went to the break with a 4-3 lead. And don’t think “Milwaukee were resting their starters for the playoffs,” because they simply weren’t. Ian Bennett, Ricardinho Sobreira, and Guilherme Veiga all played. In the third quarter, the Ambush attack ignited to run up a comfortable 7-4 lead, and then the Wave broke all over, leading to a 8-7 overtime loss. Still, though, this team took the eventual champions to overtime in a rebuilding year and that’s definitely an achievement.

Three attacking players deserve a lot of praise and attention. Lucas Almeida ran the offense from midfield with 12 goals and 22 assists, with forwards Zach Reget and Justin Stinson hitting the 20-goal, 10-assist mark. Magui Souza was a spectacular two-way player, leading the team in blocked shots and contributing 10 goals and 12 assists of his own. Douglas Dos Santos and Axel Duarte were defensive studs, serving as the two best true defenders on the team. In goal, Paulo Nascimento proved he’s still got it as he approaches his 34th birthday, with a very nice season between the pipes.

Really, a lot of things went right for the Ambush this season, and they can feel proud of a best-ever record in their time in the MASL. They converted 43% of their power plays, killed half of their penalties and managed to consistently take the fight to Kansas City. Hewerton Moreira is a breath of fresh air as coach, and he even managed to play eight games for the Ambush this past season ahead of retiring as a player, with four goals and five assists. I have high hopes for his future with this team.

St. Louis now has a solid list of 10 players they can build around for next season and I’m confident they’ll continue to improve on the floor.

In the stands, while attendance is down, it’s not down by much, and now that the team is winning and doing things right again, I’m also optimistic that we’ll see that number improve. It’s not in the worrying range yet and given the strong showing in their finale, they’re fine.

Mississauga MetroStars – Mississauga, Ontario

  • Record: 4-20, -64 GD, fourth in Eastern
  • Attendance: 1,020, 14th

Ah, Mississauga. I had such high hopes for Canada’s team in the MASL and it didn’t take long for those hopes to be crushed. After winning two of their first five games, they didn’t win again until mid-February, lost another four straight, beat Utica out of nowhere and then finished with a five-game losing streak. Attendance ranged from bad to abysmal, and even Dwayne De Rosario, Captain Canadia, couldn’t save Mississauga.

One of their best performances in an ultimately losing effort came in their first game of 2019 at home against Baltimore. De Rosario opened the scoring early in the first quarter, before conceding three unanswered to Baltimore to go to halftime down 3-1. Mississauga rallied with three more goals to open the third, before conceding twice in the fourth to end up trailing by a goal again. Marco Rodriguez got an equalizer with six attackers to force overtime, where Baltimore ultimately prevailed. All of this action, and an announced crowd of just 695.

Molham Babouli was consistently the best player for Mississauga, and without his 21 goals and 15 assists, things would have been even worse. Damion Graham formed a potent strike partner to Babouli with 19 goals and 12 assists of his own. Matthew Rios only played 17 games, but was electric in that stint with nine goals and 12 assists. Marco Rodriguez ran the midfield, and posted 11 goals and nine assists. Dwayne De Rosario managed just 11 games for the MetroStars, although he was good for eight goals and eight assists in less than half the season.

From there, there was a substantial drop-off in production down the Mississauga roster. There’s no way to sugar coat it: This was an incomplete — at best — roster even at the end of the season. Mississauga rotated through three different goalies, none of whom impressed much, and save for some good work from Josip Keran, didn’t have much of a defense either. Sacking Phil Ionadi might turn out to be the answer to some of these problems, but there’s only so much a change in coach can accomplish.

Honestly, of all the teams in the league, Mississauga is the most troubling. They had a lot of time between the initial announcement and the start of play to get things right, and they simply didn’t. The attendance numbers are very worrying, and the on-field results speak for themselves. They’re gonna need some help to make it back next season, be it new sponsorship, a relocation closer to Toronto proper or some serious overhaul in the front office.

Harrisburg Heat – Harrisburg, Pa.

  • Record: 11-13, -12 GD, third in Eastern
  • Attendance: 2,194, 11th, +50.4%

Harrisburg hit a bit of a renaissance this past season, looking much, much better on and off the field. They won 11 games for the first time and finished with their second-best record to date. Attendance was way, way up from last season and the club looks to have found some much needed stability. They took the fight to Baltimore and Utica this season, and even without making the playoffs, this was a very good season indeed.

One game that stands out to me was the penultimate home game, against Baltimore on March 30. Baltimore had already secured a playoff berth ensuring Harrisburg couldn’t, and while there wasn’t really anything left to play for, both teams played full strength. Harrisburg charged to a 3-0 lead early in the third, holding Baltimore to just six shots in the first half before Baltimore responded to tie the game with less than a minute remaining. It only took 75 seconds of overtime for Tavoy Morgan to give the Heat the win in front of a crowd of nearly 3,000.

Ricardo Carvalho posted a career best 30 goals and 19 assists and spent just two minutes in the penalty box, Tavoy Morgan had a breakout rookie campaign with 23 goals and 10 assists, and Daniel Villela found his footing and reached 11 goals and 18 assists, a career high. Offensively, Harrisburg was pretty much fine, even though they relied heavily on four primary attackers. There were some questions about the power play, but compared to last season things were visibly improved.

Defensively, Nelson Santana, Patrick Thompson and Danny DiPrima took care of as much business as they could handle given the shifts they played. They had issues killing penalties, and in some games had to stay on the floor much longer than they would have liked, but it’s a solid start for a team that was dreadful just a year ago. One or two more defenders capable of 15 minutes a night and they’ll be fine.

In goal, we saw Matt Perrella and William Banahene platooning, and while Banahene finished with a better record, I actually think Perrella is the man moving forward. He’s better at stopping shots and playing with his feet, both of which he used to keep Harrisburg in games late. That said, keeping both of them is the smartest possible move, as having someone as good as Banahene as a backup is a very comfortable position.

In the stands, attendance is up more than 50% and there’s nothing more left to say other than great work, Harrisburg.

This concludes the second part of my four-part recap coverage of the 2018-19 MASL season. Next time, we’ll take a look at the four teams eliminated in the best-of-three divisional series: Tacoma, RGV, Kansas City and Utica. We’ll conclude with the final part that’ll look at the final four teams and 2019 Ron Newman Cup champion.

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New on SocTakes: MASL season recaps: Turlock, Ontario, El Paso, Dallas

masl season recaps
Photo credit: John Lenard/Soc Takes

The MASL regular season has concluded and the playoffs are winding down, with the Milwaukee Wave and Monterrey Flash set to duel for the Ron Newman Cup today. As the end of the season draws ever closer, it’s time to take a look at how every team did.

This was a year of change for the MASL, with Syracuse moving to Utica, new teams in Orlando and Mississauga joining, and the return of the Dallas Sidekicks from hiatus. Attendance dropped for a third-consecutive season, which is worrying, but the league also landed a broadcast agreement with Eleven Sports.

We’ll start with the teams in each conference that finished below the playoff cutoff, starting with the Western Conference.

Turlock Express – Turlock, Calif.

  • Record: 3-21, -114 GD, fourth in Pacific
  • Attendance: 469, 17th, +9.6%

Arena Soccer’s punk team in Northern California continues to do what they do. Turlock may not win many games, nor draw many fans, but there’s something fun about Turlock’s low-budget, let’s-do-this spirit that I love. The Express are also well and truly a family team, with several members of owner Art Pulido’s family working or playing for the team. Turlock is usually good for at least one big upset a year, and this year was no different.

Their overtime comeback win againt Ontario at home in February was an amazing game, where the Express took a 3-1 lead into halftime, ran up a score of 7-2 in the 4th quarter, then conceded five goals in 6 minutes as Ontario tied the thing up. In overtime, Martyn Arista got fouled by Ontario’s Victor Quiroz and buried the resulting shootout.

All in all, while Turlock didn’t make the playoffs, they honestly didn’t have a bad year. Their 2-5 record in one-goal games shows just how close they were to a potential 8-16 season, which is definitely respectable, and their penalty kill was top-5 in the league, conceding just 15 goals in 43 attempts. I also really like Chris Handsor as a coach. He’s getting as much out of his team as possible, and with the resources Turlock has that’s definitely what they need.

Jorge Carmona had another 22-point season with 12 goals and 10 assists, while the acquisition of Omar Tapia from El Paso proved to be a fantastic decision. Tapia scored 13 goals and assisted another three in just eight games with Turlock, and if he sticks around for next season, Turlock’s offense isn’t looking terrible. A bit more depth and some better productivity out of their second line and they can probably manage.

Defensively, there are questions, and not many answers. Turlock had the second-leakiest defense in the league, conceding just three goals fewer than El Paso, and the gap to third-worst Mississauga was a staggering 31 goals. There’s no sugar-coating it; even in a high-scoring environment, triple-digit negative differential is bad.

Adrian Pulido is a serviceable defender, Matt Max was decent, and Douglas Lima is a solid two-way player, and that’s really it. Not much depth, and what was there wasn’t good enough. Relying on Arturo Pulido as both a playmaker and a defender isn’t a great plan.

Honestly, though, I really do wish the best for Turlock. They play in a tiny, little barn where they cram as many people as possible around the boards, film games from a single camera on a tripod that leads to some serious 1990s rap video angles and have won just six of their past 46 games, but that’s what makes them special and wonderful to me. Like I said, it’s punk.

Ontario Fury – Ontario, Calif.

  • Record: 11-13, +30 GD, third in Pacific
  • Attendance: 2,359, 10th, -0.8%

I speculated that Ontario would likely be fine if they could handle Tacoma. Well, they handled Tacoma (3-2 against the Stars) but they weren’t fine after all. Turns out, if you get swept by San Diego and Monterrey, you’re probably not all that solid. Ontario’s 11-4 record against teams that weren’t the Sockers or Flash was respectable, and they finished just a single game behind Tacoma, but really it just adds to the bitter sentiment at the premature end of the season. I don’t envy them, this Pacific Division is tough.

If there’s one game that epitomizes the Fury’s season, it’s the one game they played against RGV on Feb. 24. Ontario took or retook the lead four times, never managing more than a two-goal lead over the Barracudas, and gave up that lead on all four occasions. The game went through overtime without a goal scored, and ended up in a shootout. After seven rounds back and forth, RGV won.

Ontario actually had a unique disappointment in that they can point to the goal that cost them the playoffs. Ontario came back from a 3-0 deficit against the Flash in their final game of the season and tied things again 4-4 in the fourth quarter. Franck Tayou’s game winner quite literally ended Ontario’s season.

Juan Carlos Gonzalez led the Fury in scoring with 19 goals and 14 assists in 22 games played, another strong season from the midfielder. His primary partners, Maicon De Abreu on defense and Francisco Cordeiro up top, both had similarly strong campaigns, with De Abreu hitting 18 goals, seven assists and a team-best four power-play goals, while Cordeiro finished with 13 goals, eight assists and managed to stay out of the penalty box. I’d like to also highlight Victor Quiroz, who only played 12 games, but was fantastic in his limited minutes. Eight goals and 10 assists in only half a season is very, very nice.

Jermaine Jones signed with Ontario in March to help with their late push for the playoffs, and while he only played five games for the Fury, he adapted unbelievably quickly. Ten goals and four assists meant he was good for nearly three points on the board per game, nearly double the pace of Gonzalez. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised to see him stick around for the full season.

Ontario just about has everything they’ll need for a playoff run next season. If they can keep Chris Toth in goal and re-sign Jones, they’re in good shape.

El Paso Coyotes – El Paso, Texas

  • Record: 3-21, -85 GD, fourth in Southwest
  • Attendance: 820, 16th, -60.3%

I had high hopes for El Paso through preseason, where they actually looked decent. They brought back roughly half of last season’s team, and while they did lose Christian Gutierrez to San Diego, things looked good enough for at least a respectable season. They held their own against Monterrey and Dallas early, got a nice win at home against Tacoma to start 2019 and were sitting 3-6 at the end of January. Not great, but there was plenty of time and reason to remain optimistic.

And then they lost the next 15 games.

The quintessential El Paso game has to be the final time they hosted the Sidekicks on Jan. 19. The two sides traded blows, and even though Dallas ran up an 8-5 lead at the end of the third, El Paso was still very much in it. They even took a lead with just under three minutes left in the game, and then leaked two more goals to the Sidekicks to lose once again.

Full credit goes to Hugo Puentes, who put the team on his back and contributed to more than a third of the Coyotes’ goals. Twenty-seven goals and 22 assists is incredible. Diego Salas tried to organize a completely chaotic defense while also helping on offense with 13 goals, 10 assists and 12 blocked shots. Angel Gamez had a fantastic debut season for a defender, and at times was single-handedly shutting down Monterrey’s offense, but he didn’t have the necessary support.

Really, that’s at the core of El Paso’s on-field issues. They had maybe eight players good enough to start anywhere in the league, but no meaningful depth, and relying on that core to do everything wasn’t going to work. It left the defense completely porous, overworking Eduardo Arevalo Gonzalez in goal, and it was hard to watch.

And yet, that doesn’t entirely explain the collapse in attendance. There were announced crowds as low as 215 for good games against good teams early in the season. I just don’t understand how only 215 tickets could be sold for a weekend game against Tacoma. It’s giving me serious doubts about the long-term viability of the Coyotes. Something needs to be changed with how they’re marketing this team and interacting with fans, because whatever they did this past season simply did not work.

masl season recaps
Photo credit: John Lenard/Soc Takes

Dallas Sidekicks – Allen, Texas

  • Record: 9-15, -50 GD, third in Southwest
  • Attendance: 2,615, sixth, +13.7% from 2016-17

The Sidekicks returned with a much more organized front office, better finances and much of the same roster and coaching staff from the season before their hiatus. It wasn’t the same explosive flash as their original re-launch season, nor was it the big comeback I was hoping for, but it was mostly good enough. Yes, the Sidekicks did get swept by Tacoma and San Diego, but they didn’t get swept by Monterrey and finished with a better record and winning percentage than their two seasons before the hiatus.

As with the above, we have a game that encapsulates the season, and for the Sidekicks it’s the season finale at home against the Barracudas. Cody Ellis put Dallas on the board with the only goal of the first quarter, and then RGV woke up. They tied the game, took the lead shorthanded and went into half time up 3-2. The rest of the game was the Sidekicks struggling to find any sort of consistency while chasing the Barracudas around the floor, and the Sidekicks lost 5-4.

The top two attacking lines did great, in all honestly. VcMor Eligwe had a career-best 27 goals and eight assists, while Jamie Lovegrove had another strong season with 24 goals and eight assists. Ricardinho was a playmaking machine with 4 goals and a stellar 20 assists. Cameron Brown, Cody Ellis, and Nestor Hernandez all put in solid performances all season. Juan Gamboa was great in goal and did his best to keep the Sidekicks in some tough games.

Really, the biggest concern I have is one that I’ve heard from several previous Sidekicks players. There’s not a lot of confidence in Simon Bozas as a coach. His background in the outdoor game and player management holds up well and makes him a great general manager, but he’s just not as good of a coach for the indoor game as Tatu was, and it shows.

There’s also a serious lack of depth, and that’s a side-effect of the hiatus more than anything. Dallas lost a large chunk of their roster when they took a season off, and rebuilding that will take time. There’s no shortage of soccer talent in the Metroplex, and with the lack of overlap between the MASL and NPSL, I would not be surprised to see more players from the Fort Worth Vaqueros or Denton Diablos take part in the next Sidekicks season. It definitely helps that Hitch is a very important common factor for the three.

Next year will probably be better and, more importantly, the Sidekicks have done well to re-integrate themselves into the local soccer landscape. I’m optimistic. Cautiously optimistic, but optimistic nonetheless.

That’s all for the first part of these season recaps. We’ll be continuing shortly with a look at the five teams that finished below the playoff line in the Eastern Conference.

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