by Lindsay Durham

**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.**


MASL After Dark

Chaos is commonplace in the MASL, but this weekend took it up a notch. If you live for drama; those edge-of-your-seat, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it, do-or-die moments, then Sunday night was your Super Bowl.

We’ve seen fewer games go to overtime compared to last year, but the past seven days accounted for over a third of all overtime games so far this season. This weekend, Harrisburg earned a much-needed win over Baltimore at home, Monterrey needed an extra 58 seconds to beat Milwaukee on their black turf, the Ambush and Strykers exchanged late goals before Marco Fabián won it for the hosts, and last but not least, San Diego clawed their way back to beat Tacoma on the road in a game that was caked in craziness.

We’ll talk more about Harrisburg and Milwaukee later, but the latter pair of games were easily the two best games of the weekend from a neutral perspective. In Ontario, Calif., Empire was hoping to earn their first win at home against a St. Louis side they had beaten back in December. Since then, the Strykers have struggled to win games, with their only other victory coming on Jan. 6, against the Dallas Sidekicks.

A five-goal second quarter gave Empire a 6-2 lead before St. Louis pulled it back in the fourth quarter. Five straight Ambush goals, including a laser from goalkeeper Paulo Nascimento, completed the improbable comeback and gave the visitors the lead with just seconds to play. With even fewer seconds to play, five to be exact, Moustapha Gueye equalized thanks to a wicked deflection, sending the game to overtime, where Fabián’s class flowed. A classic give-and-go with Stefan Mijatovic gave the former Mexican International all the space he needed to shoot the dagger past Paulo in goal.

I’d like to take this chance to sing the praises of Fabián because I feel like I haven’t given him the attention he deserves this season. He’s been an extraordinary stamp on a rather ordinary letter, causing his performances to seemingly get lost in the mail. He’s third in the league for points per game with 2.6 and is scoring on 26.5% of his shots while making the transition from outdoor to indoor appear seamless. Getting acclimated to this league is no easy feat, so making it look as easy as he does, speaks to the tremendous quality of Fabian.

From the frantic to the fitful, San Diego’s win over Tacoma felt more like a football game with all the stoppages and reviews. From whistle to horn, the fourth quarter took an hour, two minutes, and nine seconds. For context, the entire first half took just over 56 minutes. Amidst the haze of video reviews and crowd shots, there was a thrilling culmination to a soccer game, somewhere in there.

Despite trailing for pretty much the entirety of the game, San Diego kept it close until the fourth quarter. Kraig Chiles and Cesar Cerda cut the deficit before         Brandon Escoto equalized spectacularly with five seconds left, to send the game to overtime. Two minutes and 22 seconds into extra time, Tavoy Morgan redirected an incisive pass from Gabriel Costa, past a helpless Chris Toth, ending the night with another San Diego victory.

This now makes five wins in this series for the Sockers, who will not face the Stars again until the end of March. With that said, the series has gotten much closer and much more intense as the season has gone on. Just one goal has separated the last two meetings, and Tacoma’s play has noticeably improved.

They’ve still only lost to San Diego, so I’ll ask, what is this Tacoma team capable of? At this point, they’ve only played four teams in San Diego, Empire, Baltimore, and Utica, but by the end of the season, they will have played every team except for Milwaukee. We still have quite a bit to learn about Tacoma, but fortunately, we don’t have to wait too long as Monterrey visits the accesso ShoWare Center on tomorrow at 10:05 p.m. EST.

Milwaukee’s rise and fall

After starting 2024 with five consecutive wins, Milwaukee closed out its packed January schedule with three games in six days. Head coach Giuliano Oliviero’s side grew into the season with a string of improved performances before this weekend, which provided an opportunity for the Wave to see exactly where they stack up against the best teams in the league. While some teams can afford a cheap litmus test, Milwaukee’s appears rather costly.

            During January, the Eastern Conference standings have been anything but stable. As Milwaukee, Utica, and Kansas City scrap for the crumbs left by Monterrey, the latter pair have endured frustrating spells, opening the door for the Wave in the process. Utica’s loss in Milwaukee preceded another similar defeat to Tacoma. They got back on track by beating the Comets, who then endured a shocking five-game losing streak.

            So Milwaukee’s goal became clear. If they wanted to establish themselves as clear favorites to finish second in the East, points, plural, were required from this weekend. Three tough games later and all they have to show for it is a trip to overtime against the Flash.

Their first game in Monterrey proved fruitless before an 8-6 loss to the Outlaws in Texas. At home on Sunday, the Wave took Monterrey to extra time, holding the visitors scoreless through the second, third, and fourth quarters, before conceding the golden goal less than a minute into the period.

It should be noted that undefeated Monterrey has failed to win in regulation only twice this season, with both occasions coming in Milwaukee. The Wave is one of only three teams without a regulation loss at home, alongside Utica City FC and of course, the Flash. With the way the playoffs are structured, every game matters, and having a tangible home-field advantage will be huge. For that exact reason, playoff seeding will be crucial.

Milwaukee has currently played the most games of any team in the league, which gives an advantage to Utica in particular. Hewerton’s side already sits five points clear of the Wave and eight above the Comets. Take Utica out of the equation and it’s a two-horse race between Milwaukee and Kansas City. In reality, this is becoming less of a race to finish second, and more of a race to to avoid Monterrey in the first round.

As both teams gear up for the looming playoffs, managing player fatigue becomes crucial. While Zach Reget's stellar season with 21 goals in 13 games demands attention, don't overlook Milwaukee's Marcio Leite. At 39, Leite is enjoying a career resurgence, notching 24 points in just nine appearances. He's been crowned the league's Defensive Player of the Week for the past two weeks as his presence not only fortifies the team's defense, but also bolsters the offensive lineup. Currently second only to Nick Perera in both points per game and assists, Leite is also averaging nearly two blocks per game solidifying his impact across the turf.

 Aside from Leite, the Wave needs to get back to their scoring ways. Oliviero’s side has tallied more than four goals just once in their last four games, having achieved the feat in each of their previous seven matches. Defensively, Milwaukee is averaging 5.5 conceded goals per game, and William Banahene himself is at 4.94. If the Wave can open the floodgates, unleashing the attacking prowess of Ian Bennett, Ricardo Carvalho, Derek Huffman, and Mario Alvarez, they can compete with the very best. Their first chance to get back in the win column will be against Harrisburg at the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena on Saturday, Feb. 3 at 7:05 p.m. EST.

Harrisburg gets on the board

At the beginning of the season, it felt like only a matter of time before Harrisburg would be rewarded for their efforts, and while it’s taken a bit longer than head coach Pat Healey would have liked, the win finally came this week. Many saw their style of play and realized that the wins would be hard-fought contests where the Heat found a way to capitalize on an opponent’s off night, and against the Blast, that evaluation came true.

            Dominic Francis called “game” in overtime with a perfect free-kick from close range. His second goal on the night gave his side the two points and hopefully, the confidence to keep this going. At the heart of the win was Harrisburg’s ability to control the controllables and take advantage of the moments that favored them.

            This season, the Heat have given their opponents just four power plays, all of which have come on the road. No other team in the league has fewer than ten. Harrisburg’s discipline deserves praise, but their attacking power plays made the difference on the night. Harrisburg converted both power plays against Baltimore, including Francis’ game-winning goal in overtime.

I had the chance to speak with Dallas Sidekicks head coach Ed Puskarich a few weeks back and took the opportunity to ask him about his team’s power play and set piece proficiency. He emphasized how important those controllable moments are for teams like the Sidekicks and Heat who have struggled to win as much. It’s the little moments of the match that can make the difference if teams are prepared to get them right. That preparation comes from the coaching staff, so kudos to Healey and his assistants for putting their players in a position to win on a night when the players did the same.

            In open play, Harrisburg outshot the Blast 24 to 14, making goalkeeper Jorge Navarrete’s life much easier. The Heat’s new shotstopper has started in his side’s last three games, registering an average save percentage of .702 and conceding just 4.68 goals per game.

The 26-year-old could be exactly what Harrisburg has been looking for defensively, hopefully keeping scores low for his side while his teammates try to take more shots. The Heat ranks dead last in the Eastern Conference for shots per game, but is comparatively average in most other attacking categories, which suggests that if they can be more creative and find more shooting opportunities, this Harrisburg team could seriously challenge for more wins in the future.

The low-scoring Wave should be careful this weekend, especially if they continue to struggle in front of goal. The Heat will slow the game down and keep the game close, ready to pounce if the opportunity presents itself on Saturday, Feb. 3 at 7:05 p.m. EST in Milwaukee.