CRAIG'S CORNER - PLAYOFF EDITION
Craig’s Corner RNC Playoffs Week One
Welcome back inside the corner! I’ll try not to lean on you as hard as Vini Dantas.
Mama, We Made It
Three MASL playoff series were played last weekend in three states. No players tested positive, rosters were generally at full strength (season-ending injuries excepted), and the competition was fierce. The results were exciting but not controversial, and I think it’s very fair to say the best four teams are playing in their sport’s Final Four.
The path to get here hasn’t been straightforward, and the losses suffered have been real. However, as a skeptic from the start of the MASL playing a season during a pandemic, you have to give them credit for having the resilience to get this far. Yes, I might say this again next week too! The fact that our sport played this season in this circumstance is truly remarkable. The National Lacrosse League hung up their sticks for the season. The American Hockey League is playing in practice rinks. The MASL figured out a way to get to a spot where now, a legit championship tournament is taking place. Tip of the cap to you.
Ontario vs Dallas
That was a weird series, wasn’t it? Ontario is clearly the better team, and they showed it early in both matches against over-matched Dallas, jumping ahead by big margins. Charlie Gonzalez and Maicon de Abreu are playing the best soccer of their careers, and I think Franck Tayou quietly is as well, gutting his way through a season that has seen him play banged up for a while. Tayou isn’t lighting up the scoreboard, but he’s allowing his teammates to with his unselfish play, defensive commitment and willingness to work.
But…both games were also a little bit up for grabs. The Fury looked *very* leaky defensively. Claysson de Lima might be slowing down a little bit in his first season as an every-game starter. Was Ontario just tapping the brakes and toying with their competition, or will Kansas City be able to expose the same weaknesses with much better talent? A big question for the coming weekend.
The Sidekicks end a 1-12 campaign (1-10 regular season) that ranks as the worst in the franchise’s proud history short of years where the franchise folded. Dallas has some talented players, some truly devoted fans, and a social media team that puts a positive look on everything happening. Kudos to them, I mean it!
Sometimes, you watch the ‘Kicks and think they are putting something together. Still, it’s been years now for Simon Bozas, who is 27-70 on the Dallas bench. The Sidekicks play a futsal style in an indoor world; it’s sometimes pretty but it’s not fitting, and it’s not working. There’s no growth, and the arrow’s pointing in the wrong direction. Dallas is a proud name for this league, but no one can be proud about the product on the field right now.
Kansas City vs St. Louis
I predicted a closer series, looking for a mini-game here, but the Comets are on too much of a roll right now, and the Ambush couldn’t stand in their way very long. St. Louis made a match out of Game One in the second half, and held in there in the opening quarter of Game Two, but Kansas City had too much. Nicolau Neto is the youngest and least heralded of the Final Four goalkeepers, but he’s playing the best right now of the group. That could change this weekend—and Neto has been guilty even this season of impetuous plays that end up in his net—but nobody should feel comfortable playing the Comets when their young keeper is hot.
KC combines a multi-faceted offensive attack with the brilliance of Neto, and tries to fade an inconsistent defense that sometimes puts Neto in a shooting gallery. Ontario will be able to press those weaknesses, possessing the ability to counter-attack and finish their runs. But the Comets should be able to keep the attack on de Lima, and hope the young Brazilian wilts in net.
On the other side…in the end, St. Louis (our Team Interesting) had to relinquish their title, unable to ever overcome the midseason swamp of injury and COVID. They didn’t make this season as interesting as I thought, but with Hewerton’s leadership, the Ambush are a team going in the right direction. They are stocked with good young players, a veteran in Max Ferdinand to help mold them, and a coach who’s brought a quality system to town.
San Diego vs Tacoma
It was a true pleasure to be back on the mic for this series, and to have the opportunity to share the booth with Christian “Filly” Filimon. My thanks as well to SCCS Productions for their excellent work, in particular with some timely and relevant replay work, some of the best I’ve seen in this league.
As for the series itself, I don’t even have room. We could do 5,000 words on San Diego-Tacoma and not get to the post-match locker room showdowns, the replay reviews, the sit-out strategies or the petty grievances. All of this and more happened at Toyota Arena in Ontario last weekend.
The Sockers and Stars’ last THREE playoff matches have all gone to golden goal overtime. The Sockers have won all three. Tacoma, I hear ya. Sports are cruel and unforgiving, and best not to be watched at all. There are five seasons of The Muppet Show streaming on Disney+, go knock yourself out. No heartbreak there.
On Sockers Overtime, we have our own slogan for this season.
San Diego Sockers 2021: TORTURE!
Knock-down, drag-out fights, match after match. The Sockers trail every match. They lead every match. They figure out a way to cough up a lead just about Every. Single. Match. Players struggle all year, then rise up from the ashes like The Phoenix. The club locks you down, and then the captain gets a red card. Golazos from midfield, and wide-open goals missed from five feet away.
There’s just no predicting with this bunch. But somehow, some way, the Sockers found a path to a pair of victories, and brought the franchise back to an old, familiar place: the semi-finals. This has been the furthest San Diego has gone in the MASL. To go further, they’ll have to dethrone the heavy favorites in the Florida Tropics. Florida’s been the best team in the league for two years, and anything short of a Ron Newman Cup will be a bitter disappointment.
That means, though, the Tropics are playing the role in this series the Sockers are traditionally forced to play: a favorite who hasn’t made the big stage yet. The Sockers have been a club pressuring themselves and under-performing all season. They kept the monkeys on their backs even through a pair of overtime wins. But what happens when a bunch of veterans in San Diego can play like they have nothing to lose? We’re about to find out.
Enjoy the games, everyone!
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Craig’s Corner is a weekly opinion column in which Craig Elsten looks at the good, the bad, and the funny in the world of arena soccer.