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.**


Comets Turn the Tide in San Diego

Who saw that coming? Just as it seemed that Kansas City and Baltimore would be duking it out for the final spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs, the Comets go and pull a stunt like this.

After losing nine of their last ten games, Kansas City visited San Diego hoping, in some way, to get their season back on track. Eight second-half goals were enough to down the hosts for their second loss at the Pechanga Arena this campaign. For context, San Diego hasn’t lost two games at home in a single regular season since 2015-16 (3), excluding the pandemic-affected 2021 season.

The win was sparked by the Comets’ third consecutive sublime defensive effort, as they held the Sockers to just four goals in the win. Goalkeeper Nicolau Neto faced 12 shots on goal and made nine saves, while his defense blocked a whopping 14 shots. In attack, Lucas Sousa and Zach Reget registered four points each, as Rian Marques bagged a spectacular hat trick.

When looking at their defense this season, Kansas City is among the best teams in the league, with a similar profile to Chihuahua. Their opponents score 16.8% of their shots, much lower than the league average of 22.3%, and they are second in opponent shots on target per shot (OppSOTPS) with 57.7%, leading us to assume that their goalkeepers are above average and their defenders block shots, while simultaneously forcing their opponents into taking lower percentage opportunities.

Their downfall this season has been almost purely numerical; They give up too many shots. As a result, some unlucky games have gone their opponents’ way, but recently, we’re seeing them regress towards the mean.

Since Kansas City’s overtime loss to Tacoma, their opponents' goals per shot have plummeted to just 8.3%, less than half of their record for the season up to this point. So, while this standard will likely not last, their true ability lies somewhere in the middle. What they need to focus on doing, as they get closer to the playoffs, is slowing down the opposing offense. Reduce the volume of shots they concede by holding and maintaining possession and they might become genuine contenders again, like they were at the beginning of the season.

The win is more than a confidence boost; it also massively swings the playoff race back in their favor. With five games left, they lead the Blast by eight points, but Baltimore does hold four games in hand. Based on each team’s remaining schedule, I expect the Comets to hold on to that fourth spot. Don’t be surprised if they end up challenging the Wave for third come the end of the season.

Monterrey’s Statement Win

As I’ve watched the Flash fly through the season, seemingly without equal, the inevitable question has only gotten louder. Can they go undefeated through the remainder of the regular season? I had a few dates circled on my calendar, but none more than this weekend’s match against Utica at the Adirondack Bank Center.

Both sides excel on offense, with rapid, intense transitions that catch opponents by surprise. Monterrey and Utica take more shots than average, and they score 27.8% and 28.9% of their shots, respectively. It’s an offensive matchup that dreams are made of, and it lived up to the billing.

Back and forth, goal after goal, Utica kept Monterrey on their toes. Every time the Flash scored two goals, the hosts were there to return the favor. Like a perfect boxing match, it felt as though it’d go on forever. But late in the fourth quarter, Monterrey dealt a stunning blow and followed it up with the silencer. Two swift goals, quick as a flash, kept their winning streak intact going into their final six games of the season.

Two more wins will secure the first seed in the Eastern Conference, while three wins and one dropped point by the Sockers will crown Monterrey as MASL Shield champions. Those next three games will be against Texas, Dallas, and Chihuahua, all on the road, so, I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask, can they keep the streak going? With the form the Outlaws have been in, it’s hard to see them challenging this Monterrey side. Dallas has improved dramatically since these two sides last met, but the Flash should find their way through the Lone Star State with two more wins.

The real question becomes Chihuahua. A trip to Corner Sport Arena will prove difficult for the visitors as the Savage continue to claw their way closer to San Diego at the top of the Western Conference. I could really go either way on this one.

Chihuahua’s offense relies on an abundance of shots, but Monterrey’s defense prevents that from happening. On the other hand, the Flash takes high-quality shots, but the Savage prevents them better than anyone in the league. In many ways, it has the potential to be the opposite of the Monterrey-Utica match. Make sure to tune in, but until then, catch the Flash when they visit Texas on Friday, Mar. 1, at 8:05 p.m. EST.

The Highly Anticipated MVP Race

It’s been a while since we looked into the MVP Race, so I think it’s time to revisit one of my favorite topics. In the past, I’ve said how much I hate looking at goals scored and nothing else when deciding which player is truly the most valuable in the entire league. Ask any player, coach, or GM and they’ll tell you that every position has its role and adds value in its own way.

As a result, I’d like to pick out a few of my favorite players from this season and give each a brief reason why I believe they should win. I didn’t intend to build a starting six, it just happened to work out that way, but believe me, each of these players holds a genuine claim to the title. Anyway, we’ll pretend that I did it on purpose and start up top with one of the most straightforward claims of the lot before working our way backward.

Nick Perera - Tacoma Stars

Last year, Perera won the title on the back of his frankly insane 70 points and 3.0 points per game. This year, he’s followed the same trajectory, but unfortunately, he’s been forced to play fewer games due to injury. In 12 appearances, he’s bagged equal parts goals and assists with 18 of each, and he still joint-leads the league in points despite not touching the field since Feb. 9th.

Before that game against the Comets, Perera was directly involved (scored or assisted) in 53.7% of Tacoma’s goals. Last season, when he won MVP, that number was 45.1%. He’s upped his output, and for reference, the only player who comes near that tally this season is Harrisburg’s Dominic Francis, who accounts for 44.8% of his team’s goals. Goals and assists can be basic but his numbers certainly aren’t.

Luiz Morales - Texas Outlaws

If you do want goals represented with this award, Morales is your guy. He leads the league in scoring and is doing it while converting 26.8% of his shots. He’s efficient, smart, and technically brilliant. Watching Moralez is like watching a painter impose his will on a blank canvas. Every game, every play is a chance to make his mark. With great interplay and an even better shot, there’s a reason he’s feared by goalkeepers around the league.

Shoutout to Zach Reget who enjoyed a successful season in his own right. The two have similar profiles and stats, but when compared to Moralez, Reget trails his U.S. Futsal teammate in a few categories, pushing me to leave him as an honorable mention.

Ignazio Flores - Kansas City Comets

This may be a bit of an outside shout, but when you look at midfielders in this league, there are few truly two-way players. Most excel in attack or defense, but this season, Flores has done both to a high level. The Man they call Nacho is in the top 30 for points this season, but he’s also registered the seventh most blocks in the league with 31. Over a point per game combined with an average of 1.63 blocks per game ensures that Flores is earning the Comets points on offense and defense.

Honorable mention goes to Brandon Escoto, who has the most goals of any midfielder with 21. He’s another incredibly critical part of his side’s success, but I decided to go with Flores due to his impact on both sides of the ball, rather than Escoto whose attacking prowess arguably makes up for his lack of shot-blocking.

Marcio Leite - Milwaukee Wave

Similarly to Perera, Leite has missed a number of his side’s games, but when he’s been on the turf, he regularly steals the show. With a goal collection to make your head spin, he seemingly has no weak foot. Leite is another of the league’s rare players who excel in every facet of play.

He’s a great defender, as evidenced by his 1.5 blocks per game. His league-leading 18 assists show he can spot a pass before anyone else, and he executes them to perfection. He’s only behind Perera when looking at points per game and again, he’s one of the best defenders in the league. The Wave looks completely different without him; they score an average of 3.5 more goals when he’s in the lineup compared to when he isn’t. If that’s not important, then I don’t know what is.

Ismael Rojo - Monterrey Flash

I could have picked any block wizard from the league’s records, but I’m going with Ismael Rojo due to his remarkable finesse, tremendous confidence on the ball, and once again, impact in both phases of play. Rojo has recorded 27 blocks in 18 games while simultaneously averaging over a point per game.

He’s a physical presence, who demands special attention from opponents to account for his ability to block shots and then run down the length of the field and score. He’s rapid, technically gifted, and one of the keys to Monterrey’s tremendous run, and defensive fortitude.

Diego Reynoso - Chihuahua Savage

While Reynoso made his return to the league midway through the season, he wasted no time getting acclimated. Since his first appearance in a shutout win over San Diego, the Savage goalkeeper has kept his goals-against average below three, while also having the highest save percentage in the league. He’s good with his feet, extremely technical, and based on my data, he’s saving his team roughly 0.68 goals per game, or just over six goals since joining.

I’d love to give some attention to the Monterrey goalkeepers, too. They’ve both been sublime, and their system of sharing time has created a new standard for goalkeeping pairs.

I picked Reynoso, however, because while Berna Valdovinos and Christian Hernandez have both been similarly impressive, the pair have similar stats, making it difficult to establish one keeper as being better than the other with any sort of confidence. Reynoso, however, has a lower goals-against average and higher save percentage compared to Savage’s previous shot-stopper, and despite playing three more games, Reynoso has still conceded nine fewer goals. Goals win games, but stopping them can too.