AROUND THE LEAGUE WITH JOSEPH REINA: WEEK ONE
**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.**
Six teams took to the turf this past weekend to kick off the tenth season of the MASL. Four tasty fixtures set the tone for the year and gave everyone a better understanding of what expectations should be for this season. So let's go around the league to see what happened in the MASL this week.
St. Louis Ambush
St. Louis started its campaign with a defensive duel that ended in a 2-1 overtime loss to Milwaukee in front of over 2,500 fans at The Family Arena. Jeff Locker’s side faced the Wave six times last season, winning just once, and while the loss will feel like deja vu, holding Milwaukee to just one goal in regulation should be praised.
Last season, the Ambush allowed an average of 5.5 goals per game and the fewest amount of goals they conceded in one match was two against the Florida Tropics. Keeping Milwaukee to just one regulation goal for the opening match is admirable and a good starting point. The issue now becomes putting the ball into the other goal.
Take no credit away from William Banahene in the Wave’s net, but there were several clear-cut chances that St. Louis just missed. Great defense will keep you in games, but you ultimately have to score to win.
Next up for St. Louis is the first of three trips down I-70 to Cable Dahmer Arena to take on the Kansas City Comets on Sunday, Dec. 3 at 5:05 p.m. EST.
The defending Ron Newman Cup Champions made a statement on Friday night with a comprehensive demolition of the traveling Empire Strykers. Despite actually trailing for practically the entire first quarter, Chihuahua showed no mercy, scoring eight unanswered goals during the ensuing three periods.
Seven different players found the net for the Savage, a trait that Everardo Sánchez’s side has developed a bit of a reputation for in the past year. Chihuahua has so many players who are capable of scoring for fun, and when they’re in sync, they often do, especially on the counter.
It’s a performance that left little to be desired, aside from a silly blue card right at the end of the match, but at this point, all signs point to the Savage being serious title contenders again this year, potentially even more than last. Watch as the newly rebranded Texas Outlaws visit Corner Sport Arena to take on Chihuahua on Thursday, Dec. 7 at 9:00 p.m. EST.
Much like the Savage, Monterrey dismantled Empire in its season opener. The games followed similar trajectories, as the Flash put the Strykers to the sword 9-2, but Monterrey still has much to fix if they want to reach the heights they are capable of.
Let’s start with the positives. Conceding two goals is always a great way to win games, especially when your offense is capable of putting up nine goals in a game. Berna Valdovinos and Christian Hernandez split time in goal, each conceding just once while combining for 15 saves.
In attack, Jorge Luis Cortés bagged the league’s first hat-trick of the season, as four of the club’s new signings earned debut goals of their own. Luis Jaime Borrego’s side scored for fun in the third quarter forcing Empire keeper Brandon Gomez to pick the ball out of his own net six times. It appears that scoring will not be a problem for Monterrey, who despite facing Western Conference teams for the majority of the season are actually in the Eastern Conference. The issues, however, appear to be self-inflicted.
The Flash accumulated a staggering six penalties and a red card against Empire. It’s a needless handicap that will absolutely cost them in closer fixtures if it continues. With just four playoff spots up for grabs, seeding could be crucial and it would be a shame to see Monterrey drop points unnecessarily. Up next, the Dallas Sidekicks come to town on Sunday, Dec. 3 at 4:35 p.m. EST.
Most teams that played this weekend had tangible positive takeaways, but Empire is the outlier. Two comprehensive losses, albeit on the road to stiff competition, but in both cases, the Strykers took the lead, held it for a bit, and then capitulated.
Empire completely rebuilt this offseason and despite having a team full of talented playmakers, the chemistry doesn’t seem to be there just yet. No Franck Tayou obviously hurts productivity but it is surprising that the likes of Lucas Roque, Stefan Mijatovic, and Justin Stinson all have yet to register either a goal or an assist.
In a similar vein to Monterrey, the Strykers need to cut down on the penalties. Two against Chihuahua and a further six against the Flash don’t help anyone. Right now, Empire needs to stop the bleeding with a better performance, whether they win or lose, and luckily they have this weekend off to regroup and get the ball rolling against St. Louis on Saturday, Dec. 9 at 7:05 p.m. EST.
There’s an old cliche that says the best teams find a way to win, even when they aren’t at their best. It was only natural to deem this applicable after the Wave’s narrow overtime win against St. Louis, on Friday night. Milwaukee was among the best teams in the league last year, and with some new additions, many felt Giuliano Oliviero’s side was among the favorites again this campaign. It took about 48 hours for that tag to be ripped clean off.
At the Cable Dahmer Arena just outside of Kansas City, Missouri, Milwaukee continued it’s horrific record against the Comets away from home. You have to go back to Feb. 21, 2020 to find the last time the Wave left Kansas City with a win, a stretch of seven straight losses.
Any momentum and positivity taken from the win over St. Louis was immediately stuffed out and now Milwaukee finds itself faced with a game that has quickly become a must-win. Monterrey comes to the UWM Panther Arena on Saturday, Dec. 9 at 7:05 p.m. EST, and loss would put the Wave in an unfamiliar position of chasing the leading pack.
Kansas City Comets
Very little didn’t go the Comet’s way on Sunday night. Led by Wisconsin native Zach Reget’s first-half hat trick, the Kansas City dominated throughout and defender John Sosa’s goal and three assists put him alone at the top of the MASL points list as well.
There was a lot of improvement done this offseason, and while we’ve seen some teams struggle already to cope with offseason aquisitions, the Comets made it look easy with a performance that would not have felt out of place in March. New signings Robert Palmer and Michael Lenis registered one and two assists respectively, for what can only be described as the perfect way to start a season.
It should be noted that KC accumulated two penalties that were both scored by the Wave, showing either Milwaukee is really good at converting their power plays into goals or the Comets need to work on organization when down a man. Goalkeeper Nicolau Neto had himself a night with 16 saves, but his defense’s short-handed play needs some attention. Their next chance will be a home game against the St. Louis Ambush on Sunday, Dec. 3 at 5:05 p.m. EST.
As we look ahead, the remaining seven teams will open their seasons with a five game slate that covers both Saturday and Sunday. During these early season matches, pay attention to the officials, as there will be three on-field referees for each team’s first two home matches. The league is trialing a new system and based on the opening weekend, it’s hard to say it shouldn’t continue.
Saturday’s matches will feature Texas traveling to take on Baltimore at 6:05 p.m. EST and Utica City hosting Harrisburg at 7:05 p.m. EST.
Tune in Sunday at 4:35 p.m. EST to watch as Dallas takes on Monterrey at Arena Borregos. St. Louis and Kansas City will kick off a half-hour later at 5:05 p.m. EST, while Tacoma visits San Diego with kickoff scheduled for 8:05 p.m. EST.