Author: John Michael Lenard

I write, I do vector graphic things, I make flags, and I occasionally podcast. I write about sports, music, statistics, and do many other things too.

New on SocTakes: Patrons, enjoy 12 Days of Giftmas from Dec. 14-25

12 Days of Giftmas
The 12 Days of Giftmas are here. Image credit: John Lenard/Soc Takes

You might notice things quieting down at our website over the next couple weeks. Don’t worry, we’re not going anywhere; our content is.

The 12 Days of Giftmas are here.

To celebrate the holidays with our patrons, we’ll be publishing just about all our content — at least one post per day — exclusively for our Patreon supporters from Dec. 14-25. It’s our token of gratitude for your continued support.

You may see a few posts pop up at the dot com as well, but most of the magic will be happening over at patreon.com/soctakes through Christmas Day.

Not a patron and experiencing a bout of FOMO? You can gain access to our 12 Days of Christmas by making a monthly pledge for any amount of your choosing at our Patreon page. The generosity of our Patreon supporters enables us to maintain a paid staff and continue expanding our coverage of the beautiful game in America and beyond.

Thank you, patrons! Enjoy the 12 Days of Giftmas…

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New on SocTakes: North Texas SC launches in USL League One

North Texas SC

Image credit: North Texas SC

DALLAS — On Thursday, FC Dallas officially launched its new USL League One team, named North Texas SC. It is the final USL League One team to be announced for the 2019 season, bringing the league up to 10 teams for its debut. FC Dallas season ticket members will have access to every NTSC game. NTSC will play at Toyota Stadium, home of FC Dallas, for 2019, with the possibility of playing elsewhere in the future. More on that later.

Also announced was general manager Matt Denny, formerly the director of group ticket sales for FC Dallas. Though Denny has spent nearly a decade in the sales side of the front office, he actually has a thorough soccer background, including a UEFA B license and experience running the Lyons Township Soccer Club near Chicago.

The team also made its first player signing, 15-year-old forward Ricardo Pepi. Pepi just turned 15 a few months ago, yet at age 14 he was already a regular with the FC Dallas U-17 Academy team. This season, he scored a ludicrous 19 goals in just eight appearances and received three call-ups to the U-17 national team. This kid has been on the prospects radar in the Dallas soccer scene for years now and it’s incredibly reassuring to see the organization signing him as a professional. He’s now the 26th FC Dallas Academy kid to turn pro, and he’s on a four-year contract. All very, very good things.

The club is now in the process of signing its first head coach, and so far it seems like Luchi Gonzales is the front-runner. It makes perfect sense. He’s been academy director since late 2015, he’s been coaching within the academy since 2012 and his teams have been nothing short of dominant. With the expectation of NTSC’s roster comprising almost entirely ex-Academy talent, it’s absolutely the right move. Expect this to be confirmed in the next few weeks.

Part of the idea and mission behind North Texas SC is to represent more than just Dallas (or Frisco). While the club will play in the first team’s stadium for 2019, they are planning to play additional games around the DFW Metroplex. Downtown Dallas and Fort Worth have both been mentioned as potential sites for games, as a way to literally bring the team to the people and promote the entire FC Dallas organization on a much wider scale. Both of these are welcome developments to a fan base all too familiar with a lack of marketing and market awareness. So far, nothing specific has been announced, but the new ballpark under construction in Dallas’ Reverchon Park for an upcoming independent baseball team seems plausible.

The USL League One season is gradually being revealed, but quite a bit is already confirmed. The 2019 season will include 10 teams, all officially announced now, with NTSC as one of three MLS team-owned clubs. The season will begin the weekend of March 29-31, will comprise 28 games for each team and will end the weekend of Oct. 4-6. Playoffs will include the top four teams from the table (no conferences) and will start the weekend of Oct. 11-13, with the final held between Oct. 17-21.

In MLS news, FC Dallas is expected to announce its new coach sometime next week. While current assistant Marco Ferruzzi and USA U-20 coach Tab Ramos have been rumored, there’s also been news of “coaches with Champions League experience” in discussions for the job. I’d currently give 40 percent odds that it’s Ferruzzi, 20 percent on Ramos, 10 percent on Gonzales getting the first team gig instead, 20 percent on somebody completely unexpected, 5 percent on someone fired in MLS in the past few seasons and 5 percent on a flaming meteor.

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New on SocTakes: Off the Bench: 1st game

1st gameBack in October, I wrote a brief post on signing up for a rec league to play organized soccer for the first time in my life. I actually registered back in late September and wrote that piece a few weeks later. Due to the torrential rain that plagued North Texas from August onward, summer season games kept getting postponed and rescheduled, and I only received my game schedule a week into November, with a planned start date of Nov. 18.

Well, that ended up not happening due to delays getting the team of free agents assembled, and the game was postponed to later in the season. Even after an extra week, we just barely met the league roster requirements and by our first game had one goalkeeper and three women, with another six male field players. It’s a starting seven with subs for the guys, and that’s it.

We set up a group chat ahead of our first game on Saturday, Nov. 24 with some brief introductions, uniform decisions (i.e., “wear a black shirt but also bring a white one and we’ll decide on gameday”) and a request to meet 15 minutes before the game. I showed up there to meet my teammates for the first time, the Co-Ed Free Agents.

I don’t know for certain, but I’m likely the youngest on the team by a year or so. I’m also the least experienced, but that’s a given. I made an effort to not reveal just how completely inexperienced I was knowing that it would become obvious by the end of the day.

Our opponent was the Fort Worth Police Department’s co-ed team, known as the Panthers. They lost their first game 6-2, giving us a not-terrible chance. By kickoff, only two of the three women on our roster had arrived, so we made a deal with the other team and the referee to play only five field players with both women on the field.

The whistle blew, and my first game began.

That is, with me on the bench. I wasn’t starting, and I was honestly pretty happy about that. For the first 10 minutes of the 25-minute first half, I sat by and watched my hastily assembled team score our opening goal of the season to take a nice early lead. Our goalkeeper, Hugo, put in some fantastic work to keep us in it, as it turned out that the Fort Worth cops weren’t half bad at soccer. After that first 10, one of my teammates signaled for a substitute and my first shift began.

I slotted in at right wing, the one position I played in a few pickup games back when I lived in Arkansas. First time on the field in cleats, what a feeling. For the first part of my shift, I focused on chasing down any errant balls, putting my not-terrible sprinting ability to use and dropping back to defend as necessary. I didn’t take many passes but that honestly didn’t matter, and I was more than happy to run myself ragged. I lasted a little over five minutes, which wasn’t bad for the most physical exertion I’d felt since my last Pump it Up session.  My “best” moment that shift was going full sprint the entire length of the field to chase down a ball close to the opponent’s goal. About two yards from the goal line, I lost my footing and fell face forward.

I subbed out with the score still 1-0. It didn’t last. The Panthers scored once not long after I exited, leaving things tied 1-1 at halftime. My throat was painfully dry thanks to my excessive mouth-breathing and I spent the rest of the half chugging down water.

We lined up for the second half with all three of the women on our team now present, playing six field players for the first time. I was starting, taking my spot at right wing once again. Early in the second half, I had one moment out wide right where I had a chance to cross into the box to an open forward. I mishit the pass (rookie mistake, I know) and one of their defenders easily intercepted. Oh, well. I lasted slightly longer on the field this time, and was much more comfortable dropping back to defend to give us three at the back against a counter. However, I did have one seriously bad stretch wherein I was marking another winger pushing forward, sprinted toward the corner to defend against a counter and left a forward completely wide open at the near post. Suddenly, we were down by one.

At that point, I was definitely feeling not fantastic and subbed out. While I was on the bench, my team scored to even things up at 2-2. After a few minutes of back-and-forth play, one of my teammates was ready to come off and I hopped off the bench with roughly 15 minutes left in the second half for my third shift. For this final shift, we were dealing with sustained pressure thanks to their team having much fresher legs and I found myself generally playing right back. I managed to marginally improve my defensive thinking, but I really only had about seven minutes left in me. With a little less than 10 minutes left, I subbed off for the final time.

The Panthers scored to take a 3-2 lead late in the game, and despite our best attacking efforts we couldn’t find another equalizer and the result held. Honestly, though, we played better than expected for a last-minute, hastily assembled roster that first met roughly an hour earlier.

As for me, I learned that I’m not nearly as in shape as I thought, but my knees and ankles managed to hold up for the most part. I packed up my gear and headed back home with one week until next game.

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New on SocTakes: Unraveling changes for 2019

unraveling changes - USL

Photo credit: Robbie Mehling/Soc Takes

2019 already has the makings of a historic year for soccer in North America with not one, not two, but four new leagues launching next year. This piece here should hopefully straighten things out by summarizing and explaining what we currently know.

First up, let’s talk some USL. The top league in its system is now the USL Championship and will likely comprise 36 clubs for 2019. Teams in Austin, Birmingham, El Paso, Hartford, Loudoun, Memphis and Albuquerque are all joining the league. FC Cincinnati is set to join MLS, while Toronto FC 2, Penn FC and the Richmond Kickers will all leave the league for the new third-division USL League One, with Penn FC delaying its debut to 2020.

Moving on to USL League One, the league currently has 10 teams confirmed for 2019. These teams are new teams in Chattanooga, Madison, Greenville, Lansing and Frisco, along with former PDL (now League Two) members FC Tucson and Tormenta FC. Joining them are the aforementioned teams from Toronto and Richmond, as well as a returning Orlando City B side. The Rochester Rhinos are set to end their hiatus by joining alongside Penn FC in 2020.

Then, there’s the National Independent Soccer Association (NISA), formerly run by Peter Wilt. Wilt has left to spearhead the USL League One efforts in Madison. In his absence, the league has regrouped and announced four markets along with one actual team. The first team to be “officially” revealed is San Diego 1904 FC, a club which was originally announced as part of the canceled 2018 NASL season. San Diego will be joined by clubs in Charlotte, Philadelphia, Atlanta and somewhere in Connecticut. NISA does have something of a time advantage on both USL leagues, as NISA is planning to operate on a fall-spring season beginning in August of next year, rather than March/April as is the norm for MLS and USL. The league plans to have 8-12 teams announced for the inaugural season.

In addition to NISA, the NPSL, a long-established amateur/semi-professional league, has announced a new professional tournament to be known as the Founder’s Cup. So far, 11 clubs have been revealed: Chattanooga FC, Detroit City FC, Miami FC (former NASL), Miami United FC, Milwaukee Torrent, New York Cosmos (former NASL), FC Arizona, ASC San Diego, Cal FC, California United Strikers FC (former NASL expansion) and Oakland Roots SC. The league is currently dividing its clubs into Eastern and Western Conferences, with plans to add one more club to the West. The inaugural campaign will run from August through November, with plans for a full spring-to-fall season in 2020.

To finish things off, Canada is finally getting a proper top division, the Canadian Premier League, planning to kick off in April. Seven teams will contest the 24-game season. Check out our CPL primer for a much deeper look at the league.

Follow John on Twitter: @JohnMLTX.

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New on SocTakes: Forward Progress: FC Dallas’ quest for DP talent

DP talent

Photo credit: Michael Barera (Creative Commons license)

I’ve supported FC Dallas in MLS since the 2011 season. The 2010 MLS Cup final was the first MLS game I ever watched, and their 2011 home opener was the first pro soccer game I ever attended. Over the past eight seasons, there’s been one overwhelmingly common complaint among fans: “FC Dallas needs a proper forward.” This comes in a few variations, all containing the desire for some sort of idealized goal-scoring superstar.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking about this and wondering how to approach such an article. My first idea was to compare FC Dallas to league averages and adjust for the team’s total goals scored, but that ended up without any meaningful conclusion. My second idea was an attempt to prove that Dallas can do just fine without a proper forward, but that ended up getting both boring and directly contradicting the point of this piece. My third idea was to take every Dallas DP, forward, attacking mid, etc., and figure out the best values by taking the statistics from those players, comparing it to their wages and analyzing the outcomes. That was alright, but I honestly lost interest pretty quickly.

So, I’ve come up with a new plan, one I’m sticking to. Let’s take a walk through Dallas’ history of designated players and their impact, or lack thereof, on the club’s performance.

We begin in 2007 with the introduction of the designated player rule, and the signing of Denílson.

Denílson de Oliveira made a splash at age 17 with his debut for São Paulo FC back in 1994, winning that year’s Copa CONMEBOL and earning a spot on the Brazilian senior national team. His profile grew in 1997 as he won the Golden Ball at the Confederations Cup. In 1998, he joined Real Betis on a then-world-record transfer fee of £21.5 million (~$35 million). After five years spent with Betis, he found himself riding the bench in Spain and out of the national team. He spent a single season with Bordeaux in Ligue 1, starting regularly as his new club finished second, but found his wage demands unmet by season’s end. He then joined Saudi side Al-Nassr in the summer of 2006, making 15 appearances and scoring three goals.

On Aug. 24, 2007, Denílson joined FC Dallas as the club’s first designated player for a guaranteed $879,936 and made his debut on Sept. 1, as a 55’ sub against DC United. What followed ranks among the biggest disappointments for designated player signings in league history. After scoring a penalty kick goal against Toronto in his first start, Denílson went scoreless through six starts, finding himself out of the starting lineup by the Open Cup final in October. He finished the season with just the one penalty kick goal, no assists and a grand total of 606 minutes played, and had his option declined in the offseason. FC Dallas offered him a new, non-DP contract at a much lower wage and was turned down, with Denílson joining Palmeiras in his native Brazil.

Following three goals and 30 appearances, mostly off the bench, Denílson turned down several offers from Europe, mainly on wage issues, and eventually signed for Hải Phòng F.C. in Vietnam for the 2009 season for a V.League record salary of $5.5 million. He scored a goal from a free kick on his debut, got injured not long after, and was gone only three weeks after signing. His debut in Vietnam ended up being his final professional appearance, as he was injured not long after. He signed a contract in Greece with then-first-division Kavala F.C. He showed up out of shape, out of form, and without having participated in meaningful training for over six months. Needless to say, the club was unhappy, and despite the club’s struggles, he was cut just four months into his contract without ever making an appearance.

FC Dallas’ leading scorers that season were Carlos Ruiz and Juan Toja. Ruiz actually posted his worst season for Dallas that year with only seven goals, but was comparatively a bargain at $435,000. He left Dallas during the offseason, ending a highly successful three-year stint with the club in which he scored 31 goals and assisted on another 10. After initially being traded to the LA Galaxy, Ruiz was injured during the season opener and found himself replaced by Edson Buddle in the starting lineup. After making 10 appearances, mostly off the bench, he was traded to Toronto FC and unfortunately failed to succeed. He spent the next few years a journeyman, playing for Olimpia in Paraguay, Veracruz in Mexico, and DC United. He then returned to his original club Municipal in Guatemala, playing 18 months in what was arguably his most successful spell in nearly a decade. Finally, he signed on as a late-season addition with FC Dallas in the latter half of 2016, making just a single appearance as a substitute but scoring a goal in his 14 minutes on the field. He retired at the end of the year.

Toja, meanwhile, had a very unusual career. He was a regular in Dallas until suffering an ankle injury during the 2007 All-Star Game, which led to a reduced role and declining performance the following season. In August 2008, he moved to Steaua București in Romania. His strong performances there allowed him to crack the senior Colombian national team for the first time that October. His performance began to wane with Steaua, and he was transferred to Aris in Greece on a three-year deal, but following two seasons in which he again failed to meet expectations, he returned to MLS through the allocation process in August 2012 and joined the New England Revolution. By then, injuries had taken a significant toll on his abilities, and he made just 23 appearances through the end of 2013 and quietly retired at age 28.

This concludes part one of many on the ongoing struggle for FC Dallas to sign a top-tier goalscorer. As long as Dallas continues to sign designated players who fail to meet expectations, there will be fresh material to discuss.

Follow John on Twitter: @JohnMLTX.

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New on SocTakes: MLS Cup Playoffs: Conference semis 2nd-leg scenarios

The Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs return this evening with the Seattle Sounders hosting the Portland Timbers to kick off the second legs of the conference semifinals. The three other second legs go down Sunday. Here’s a visual of all the second-leg scenarios:

Seattle vs. Portland

Sporting KC vs. Real Salt Lake

Atlanta United FC vs. NYCFC

leg scenarios

New York Red Bulls vs. Columbus Crew SC

leg scenarios

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New on SocTakes: MLS Cup Playoffs: Conference semifinals radial bracket

2018 MLS Cup radial bracket

The eight remaining MLS sides will play out the second legs of the conference semifinals beginning Thursday evening with one match on the docket and finishing up with three more Sunday. Who do you think will advance to the Eastern and Western Conference finals? Let us know in the comments below.

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Things I’m Adding Here Soon(ish)

So, I’ve been making plans to use this space for more than just mirroring what I do elsewhere, and here’s the short summary of what I have planned for my website in the nearish future.

First up, I plan to post at least one unique thing here per week of some sort. I want to keep writing, and to write a wider variety of content, and this lets me share things and get feedback publicly while still having full control over everything. I have some things on PC gaming that I’d like to do, as well as writing about writing stuff, and some non-soccer related musings on sports. All of that will end up on here.

Secondly, I’m working on getting all of my graphics projects on here. This includes all the soccer flags, radial brackets, and more. I want to make it nice and easy to share not just what I’ve made, but also the thought process of why I did what I did. This isn’t quite as simple as I’d ideally like it to be, but it’s coming.

Third, I’m adding a few pages of “recommended” stuff. These range from the software programs that I use to get work done, the books and movies that have influenced the most, links to websites I use for research, and that sort of thing. Basically, if it contributes to my work in any meaningful way, it’ll end up in a tab. Thinking about calling this section “Essentials” because I’m a pretentious hipster.

Fourth, I’m adding a contact/submission/commission thing for people who want flags made for something. I want to make more flags for a wider variety of things, and this should hopefully give me ideas I never previously considered.

Fifth, and finally, I’m working on a “Public Gratitude” page, wherein I list all the people I want to personally thank for helping me get to where I am. Some of these people are authors or writers that influenced me, others are the individuals who offered me the chance to work on something new. I personally find it important to let people know when they’ve done or made something that has personally either affected me or inspired me, and I want to keep all of this in a nice central place. It’ll be interesting to see all the names written out in one place.

Anyway, that’s all for now. I’m not counting this as my weekly post, even though i have every right to, because I’m (of course) setting arbitrary rules for myself once again.

 

 

New on SocTakes: MASL preview: Southwest Division

Southwest Division

Photo credit: Dravecky (Creative Commons license)

Welcome back to our series of previews for the upcoming MASL season. This edition focuses on the Southwest Division.

If you missed the other parts, click here to read those. With that done, let’s jump back in.

The Southwest Division has gained one team returning from a season-long hiatus, and lost one team that has exited the league entirely. The Dallas Sidekicks are back, as promised with their announcement last September, and have a reorganized front office containing a number of fantastic soccer people. Meanwhile, the Soles de Sonora have stepped away from the MASL and are instead contesting the Mexican LMFR-Pro. This leaves the division with four teams, same as before.

Dallas Sidekicks – Allen, Texas

  • Founded: 2012
  • Home venue: Allen Event Center (6,006)
  • Head coach: Simon Bozas
  • Last season: hiatus

When the Dallas Sidekicks were refounded back in 2012, they were an absolute juggernaut in the MASL, finishing 13-3, 14-2 and 14-6 in their first three seasons. Despite not winning a championship, the team was undeniably among the strongest in the league on and off the field. That is, until a combination of financial issues and broken contracts led head coach and legendary player Tatu to step away from the team, with new ownership coming in and Simon Bozas appointed as Tatu’s replacement. Immediately, things fell apart. The Sidekicks went 7-13 two seasons in a row, well outside playoff contention, and saw their attendance plummet below 2,300. Then, the hiatus, which I actually wrote about earlier this summer. They’re officially back now, and things are already looking promising. In conversations with minority partner Michael Hitchcock — also of Fort Worth Vaqueros and Denton Diablos — the attitude is incredibly different and, in my opinion, much improved. I’ll 100 percent be at the home opener.

El Paso Coyotes – El Paso, Texas

  • Founded: 2016
  • Home venue: El Paso County Coliseum (6,500)
  • Head coach: Jose Luis Trevino
  • Last season: 11-11, 3rd in Southwest, DNQ
  • Average attendance: 2,067, 12th in MASL

The El Paso Coyotes had the absolute worst debut season in MASL history, going 0-20 in the 2016-17 campaign. Improving from that catastrophic debut to 11-11 the next year made them undeniably the most improved team. They actually looked consistently solid, even holding their own against a stupidly dominant Monterrey Flash side. Honestly, given the departure of Sonora, the Coyotes could easily contend for the playoffs this season. The battle between them and the Sidekicks is going to get interesting, as that second playoff spot in the Southwest is likely going to one of those two teams.

Monterrey Flash – Monterrey, Mexico

  • Founded: 2013 (2017-18)
  • Home venue: Arena Monterrey (17,500)
  • Head coach: Mariano Bollela
  • Last season: 20-2, 1st in Southwest, lost final to Baltimore
  • Average attendance: 3,006, 6th in MASL

Monterrey joined back when the league was still the PASL and made an immediate impact, finishing just one game behind dominant Dallas and Hidalgo squads. The next year, Monterrey came out swinging, losing just twice en route to a first place finish. They flattened Dallas 11-1 in their first playoff game and cruised to a championship title. Then they took two seasons off stemming from financial issues. The Flash returned last season and dominated the Southwest Division, and lost the championship game at home by just a single goal. Monterrey has regrouped and improved, and they’re such an easy favorite to do what they do once again.

RGV Barracudas FC – Hidalgo, Texas

  • Founded: 2014
  • Home venue: State Farm Arena (5,500)
  • Head coach: Genoni Martinez
  • Last season: 3-19, 4th in Southwest, DNQ
  • Average attendance: 1,361, 15th in MASL

RGV took the 2016-17 season off, following their second MASL season in which the Barracudas finished 8-12. Despite the on-field performances declining in their return campaign, winning only three of 22 games, attendance climbed substantially, with the team posting their highest average yet. This offseason, they’ve retooled their roster around several significant additions from Sonora and Monterrey, and at the very least should have their offensive issues from last season resolved. If they can figure out how to stop leaking goals, they might be alright.

Soles de Sonora – Hermosillo, Mexico

With the four returning teams out of the way, here’s a brief summary of the current situation in Sonora. The Soles, who made the finals in 2016 and 2017, are electing to sit out the upcoming campaign. It’s believed that they’re likely to field a team in the Mexican LMFR-Pro, and they have left the door open for a potential return in the future, but it might not be under the Soles name. Considering how strong the team was on and off the field, there’s no doubt that the league wants to return to Hermosillo, but the big question is ownership. Right now, that’s about as much as we know.

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New on SocTakes: MASL preview: Pacific Division

MASL Pacific Division

Image credit: MASL

Welcome to another part of our MASL season preview series. This installment focuses on the Pacific Division and its four teams along the West Coast of the United States.

As before, if you haven’t read the previous installments, click here. With that out of the way, let’s get back to it.

Ontario Fury – Ontario, Calif.

  • Founded: 2013
  • Home venue: Citizens Business Bank Arena (9,736)
  • Head coach: Jimmy Nordberg
  • Last season: 10-12, 3rd in pacific, DNQ
  • Average attendance: 2,378 11th in MASL

Not to be confused with Ontario, Canada, or the Ottawa Fury based there, the Ontario Fury have been part of the league for five seasons now. Last season was the first time in the MASL era that the Fury finished below .500, and they missed out on the playoffs by just a single game. This followed two consecutive 12-8 seasons which, because this is the MASL, led to a fourth and second place finish in a fluctuating Pacific Division. Honestly, considering how close they’ve been to the playoffs in their two most recent non-playoff seasons, the Fury are probably fine this year if they can handle Tacoma.

San Diego Sockers – San Diego

  • Founded: 2009
  • Home venue: Valley View Casino Center (12,920)
  • Head coach: Phil Salvagio
  • Last season: 19-3, 1st in Pacific, lost Western final
  • Average attendance: 3,284, 5th in MASL

San Diego has been undeniably among the strongest teams in the league. Through nine seasons in their current iteration, the Sockers have four titles and have never missed the playoffs. This includes last season, where San Diego lost just three of 22 regular season games, dispatched Tacoma in the division finals and only lost the Western Conference final to Monterrey by two goals. Even if they haven’t made a championship game/series in the MASL era, it’s not for a lack of effort or quality. I firmly expect San Diego to once again dominate the Pacific Division, leaving the remaining three teams to fight over second place.

Tacoma Stars – Kent, Wash.

  • Founded 2009 (2014-2015)
  • Home venue: ShoWare Center (6,500)
  • Head coach: Darren Sawatzky
  • Last season: 11-11, 2nd in Pacific, lost Division final
  • Average attendance: 2,635, 7th

Tacoma has an interesting history, even if we exclude the previous teams under the Stars name. The team joined the professional ranks for 2010-11 after winning the semi-pro Premier Arena Soccer League title the previous season, had a great debut season and then missed the playoffs twice. They self-relegated for a year, then elected to participate in the Western Indoor Soccer League. The Seattle/Tacoma market was then filled for 2014-15 by the Seattle Impact. The Impact’s brief tenure in the MASL featured, among other issues, the entire front office core walking out just before the season began, several sexual harassment charges against owner and player-coach Dion Earl from dance team members, and the resignation of 22 players in November of that season. Roughly six weeks later, the Stars bought out the Impact and took over for the rest of the season. Since then, the Tacoma Stars have been almost as good as their jerseys, and last season they held their own against San Diego in the playoffs. Just like in the original MISL, never sleep on Tacoma.

Turlock Express – Turlock, Calif.

  • Founded: 2011
  • Home venue: Turlock Soccer Complex (700)
  • Head coach: Art Pulido
  • Last season: 3-19, 4th in Pacific, DNQ
  • Average attendance: 428

Turlock is an oddity within the MASL. First up, look at the average attendance and venue capacity. Those aren’t typos. Turlock plays in a tiny and comparatively basic arena, so their total attendance of 4,706 was smaller than the crowds at three individual playoff games. That said, Turlock keeps coming back year-in, year-out, and I have nothing but respect for them. Last season was particularly rough for the Express, mainly because of San Diego’s continued dominance, but that doesn’t mean there’s no point in their continued participation in the league. They’ve come agonizingly close to playoffs twice in the past four years, and if a few pieces come together, they might actually get it done.

I personally am ridiculously excited for the MASL season, and as we get closer to kickoff, I’ll have some more things on team jerseys, streaming and more.

Follow John on Twitter: @JohnMLTX.

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