by Joseph Reina

**The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the viewpoints or positions of the Major Arena Soccer League.**


Savage sweep for second Ron Newman Cup

The season is over and it ends with jubilation for Chihuahua once again. Back-to-back champions in three short years mean the Savage has, without a doubt, become the league’s bar for consistency and success. Sure, their Mexican counterparts can claim an undefeated season and the MASL Shield, but hoisting the Ron Newman Cup is the ultimate goal for every team in this league, and for a second consecutive year, Chihuahua remains atop the throne.

This title comes despite last year’s team facing a mass exodus, including the likes of Uriel Zuart, Jhon Ponce, Berna Valdovinos, and José Antonio Medina, all of whom left for Monterrey. In their places, head coach Genoni Martinez, who joined the team in January, brought in Erick Tovar, Kristian Quintana, and crucially, Diego Reynoso to once again become the team to beat in the MASL.

Despite losses to Monterrey and Tacoma during the regular season, it was abundantly clear from Martinez’s first game in charge, that this team had bigger aspirations. Corner Sport Arena became a fortress once again, and after his appointment, the Savage lost just one game under their roof, outscoring their opponents 99-45 in those 11 games and one Knockout Game for an average goal differential of +4.5.

After taking down Tacoma in the first round of the playoffs, the Savage turned their gaze to the Sockers, and just as they did last season, advanced by way of the Knockout Game. Their cohesive unit was able to smother San Diego defensively, allowing their overwhelming attack to be the difference.

Excluding their Knockout Games due to their shorter length, the Savage took 33.3 shots per game, with 20.2 of those shots testing the goalkeeper. They scored 38 goals across those games for a goals per shot of 0.19, or marginally below the league average. In defense, Reynoso finished the playoffs with a 3.48 goals-against-average while the Savage allowed just 28.5 shots per game, again excluding the Knockout Games for a goal per shot against of just 0.17.

During the finals, Chihuahua made a habit of showing up late in games, outscoring the Comets 6-2 across both second halves. Hugo Puentes and Roberto Escalante each scored two of those six while their defense blocked 23 shots, with Roberto Escalante leading his side with five blocks, while Reynoso saved 82.4% of the shots he faced during the series.

It was controlled chaos, “Fútbol Rápido” at its very best, and while Kansas City kept up, and even got ahead, they couldn’t stay ahead. Over the two games, Chihuahua only led for nine minutes and 58 seconds.

The task now becomes clear. Can the Savage become the second team in MASL history to three-peat as champions? The Baltimore Blast achieved the feat from 2016-18, but Chihuahua stands on the verge of their own dynasty. The target on their backs just got even bigger and the rest of the league knows they could run it back next season. If they can keep their veterans, namely Reynoso, Escalante, Hugo Puentes, and Carlos Hernandez, they have every chance of doing just that in twelve months.

Comets come up short twice

“So close yet so far,” feels inadequate. The Comets played spectacularly across both games but still finished second-best. This year’s team, which endured the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, will enter the off-season knowing what needs to be done to ensure this Finals appearance is not a one-off.

In their home leg, the Comets looked as prepared to beat the Savage as any team has, with their set pieces proving extremely helpful. All three of the Comets’ goals on the night came from dead balls, but this assist from Nacho Flores proved to be the best of the bunch.

What came as a surprise was Kansas City’s impressive first half giving way to a completely lackluster second. Stefan Stokic’s side fell apart defensively, conceding three goals and allowing the Savage to bring it within one, equalize, and then take the lead with just under five minutes to play.

The Comets’ defense has been among the best in the league this season but admittedly, there were signs that this could happen. Against Utica in game one of their first-round series, Kansas City conceded three second-half goals and scored none, but managed to win in overtime. Against Milwaukee in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Wave came back from a 6-0 deficit to lead 7-6, with all seven goals scored consecutively in the fourth quarter in just 12 minutes.

While Milwaukee’s unprecedented comeback relied almost entirely on the use of their sixth attacker, the fact remains that the Comets allowed an absurd amount of second-half goals, and it seems Chihuahua knew it.

The other half of that equation is Kansas City’s offense. They looked ready and able in the first 31 minutes, but after Ramone Palmer’s goal 40 seconds into the third quarter, they looked like a different team. Set piece opportunities were squandered and it looked like their waterproof gameplan had sprung a leak.

Ignacio “Nacho” Flores and Rian Marques led their team in points across the series with three points each, while Ray Lee, Ramone Palmer, and Leonardo Acosta added one point a piece. Flores also led his team in blocks in the series with eight, three more than Chad Vandegriffe and Christian Anderaos.

Nicolau Neto had a particularly impressive series, finishing with a combined 80% save percentage. He made 32 saves, conceded four goals in each game, and his distribution kept his side competitive in the attack. While the Savage won and Reynoso was named Best Goalkeeper of the Finals, Neto’s performance was at least on par with his counterpart, proving why he was, and is, one of the league’s best goalkeepers.

Going forward, the Comets will be encouraged by their run of form that saw them win ten straight games heading into the Finals. They have top-tier talent in every position and an elite coach who just finished his first season with the team. Make no mistake, this is the beginning for Kansas City, not the end.

Putting a lid on the season, plus some extra recognition

            So with that, the season is over, but I’d like to take a few paragraphs and recognize a few players, personalities, and moments that I felt stood out during this fascinating adventure. I’ll start with broadcasting because late this season, the league made the jump to CBS Sports Golazo Network, in a monumental move.

I particularly loved Ray Biggs and Erik Bergrud’s collaboration for game two of the Utica vs Kansas City series, as well as Christian “Filly” Filimon and Jonathan “The Doctor” Reimer’s trip down to Chihuahua for the Ron Newman Cup Finals. I’d personally love to see more of this in the future, maybe each team could take their color commentators on the road with them, who knows?

We saw a host of young talent proving themselves this season, with a few standing out from the rest. Tacoma’s Nani Mendoza became an overnight sensation after his brilliant performance in his side’s shootout against Kansas City. 21-year-old Mendoza exploded during his sophomore campaign, finishing with 21 points in 17 games. Speaking of the Comets, Leonardo Acosta, who’s also 21 years old, registered 16 goals and five assists for a wonderful rookie season, capped off by a goal in the Finals.

Recency bias would recommend I choose game two between Kansas City and Milwaukee as my game of the year. However, I’ll go for an older match and choose both of Tacoma’s regular season wins over Chihuahua. I’ll single out the first game because at that point, the Stars still controlled their own destiny and needed to beat the Savage in regulation, which they did thanks to a lovely assist from Chris Toth, allowing Allesandro Canale to control the pass, turn and slot it home past Reynoso.

I’d also like to give credit to the fans for showing up and making this one of the most exciting MASL seasons to date. The teams and players feed off your energy and we saw that up until the final kick of the ball in Chihuahua. We can’t wait to do it all over again next season.

Now, time to figure out what to do without MASL in my life…