CRAIG'S CORNER RON NEWMAN CUP WRAP-UP
Welcome back inside the Corner! We’ve cleaned up the confetti but pardon the champagne smell; it takes a while to get out of the turf.
Top Shelf Competition
During the long COVID interregnum, part of our strategy to get through the weeks and months was to hit the button and go back in time, going through the greatest hits of rivalries past. We hit rewind on classic matches between the Sockers and Stars, Sockers and Steamers, Sockers and Comets, etc. The highlights of Juli Veee, Jean Willrich, Steve Zungul and friends filled our timelines.
During that “#BestOf” series, I watched more classic 1980s MISL than I had done at any point in my lifetime. I got used to the rhythms of the game being played at its highest level, with the best talent our sport has ever seen. Trust me when I say: going from that level to watching the first week or two of the MASL 2021 COVID season, as teams were yet to gain match fitness or efficiency, was a big adjustment.
Everything above is preamble to this statement: the level of arena soccer that was played in these playoffs, from the opening round through the Ron Newman Cup Finals, was the highest the sport has seen in quite some time. Six teams, balanced and evenly matched up on the field, put on a show that surely would have put a smile on Ron Newman’s face. The MASL has never looked better.
Five championship semi-final matches were played. All five were one-goal games. Three went into overtime; one went into double overtime. The Finals went three games, with one decided in overtime and the other ending with a last-second flurry. Deficits were overcome, sixth attacker scores were manufactured, stars shined and goalkeepers flourished. Definitive moments left indelible marks on the memories of those who were fortunate enough to witness the competition.
This is not to denigrate previous Ron Newman Cup playoffs; we’ve seen plenty of great action over the years, including close games. Still, something felt very different. Every shot contested. Every goal the product of sacrifice. It took brilliant plays to score, and we saw many of them. There was an electricity around the play on the field that felt…well, it felt like a bit of the ‘80s come to life.
I think the concentration of talent has a lot to do with this. The Sidekicks and six All-Star teams entered the playoffs this season. St. Louis wasn’t at full strength (and bowed to KC), but Tacoma was, and it took two golden goals to end their season. In the semis, the Sockers and Tropics played overtime, and a game decided in the 59th minute. The Comets led the Fury in all three of their playoff games, including 3-0 twice! In previous MASL playoffs, those types of deficits tended to hold. This year, no lead has been safe.
Next season, we will happily see the MASL revert to form, and go from 7 to 17 teams (or more). Many players on loan will return to their original teams. A sort of order will be restored. But we will have the memory of seeing that yes, it’s possible for arena soccer to be played at the level it was before. Gains can be made, but changes must be made in tandem to truly grow the game.
It should be a goal for MASL owners to be actively recruiting, developing and paying the talent needed to raise the level of bottom-level clubs up to at least what we’ve been seeing in this concentrated 2021 campaign. Teams should absolutely be developing talent through the indoor soccer pyramid, but they should also be looking to the USL-Championship, ex-MLS and beyond for top shelf players. With a new administration in place, the league should be doing all it can to firm up its visa situation and find more international talent, not less. You want to have higher exposure, and more interest? Make the sport look like it has for the past month, all the time. Grow the game and the fans will follow.
The More The Merrier
It was a pleasure and privilege to be involved with the MASL’s presentation of the Ron Newman Cup Finals, and to be able to broadcast the Finals for the league alongside my compatriots from the Fury, Christian “Filly” Filimon and Jonathan Reimer. It was particularly pleasing to do so on a Facebook platform that had been taken out from under a paywall and given to the people. Thanks, Soccer Sam!
2021 All-Playoff Team
GK—Boris Pardo AND William Vanzela, SD
D—Guerrero Pino, SD
D—Robert Palmer, ONT
M—Charlie Gonzalez, ONT
M—Hiram “Pollo” Ruiz, SD
F—Franck Tayou, ONT
GK—Claysson de Lima-ONT
M—Leonardo de Oliveira-SD