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.
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.
Follow John on Twitter: @JohnMLTX.
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