CRAIG'S CORNER WEEK 11
Craig’s Corner Week 11
Welcome back inside Craig’s Corner, where the glass has been double-buffed for extra transparency…
Let’s Get Topical: The Tropics are On Top
It was the determination of this space from the season’s beginning that the Florida Tropics were the undisputed and heavy favorites to win the Ron Newman Cup. An extremely deep and versatile team added even more firepower from the outside, and made the impact loan acquisition of the year with Ian Bennett coming south. Well coached and well prepared, Florida took the top seed without a goalie tandem, and with a couple key injuries along the way as well.
Last week showcased what makes the Tropics such a difficult out: they can play at multiple speeds with equal effectiveness. Florida played wide-open in the first half at Ontario, building a 6-3 lead. They bunkered down in the second half and didn’t allow a goal. VcMor Eligwe has integrated his skill set into the Tropics attack, and gives Florida a scoring option beyond Bennett, something needed with Guilherme Dos Santos on the shelf. But when the chips are down, you know IB26 is lurking in the lower left corner, waiting to pounce.
The Tropics aren’t a shoo-in to win the Ron Newman Cup, but that largely has to do with the fact that, thanks to earning a first-round bye, Florida won’t play a single playoff game on their home turf (thanks to the MASL playoff format, which is semi-bubbling into KC for the semi-finals, and Ontario or St. Louis for the finals). Nonetheless, they’ve now been the best team in the league for two straight seasons; anything short of a Finals appearance would be a major letdown.
Double Char to Go
If you talk Ontario Fury, you generally talk about Franck “King” Tayou. Four-time MVPs have that type of conversational gravity! However, it’s one of the least-discussed Fury players who is having the biggest impact in 2021: Juan Carlos “Charlie” Gonzalez.
The Fury broadcast team of Christian “Filly” Filimon and Jonathan Reimer were calling him “Char-go” last week, which reminds me of ordering a Double Char To-Go at “The Habit”—a popular West Coast burger joint—and boy has Gonzalez put extra toppings on the scoreboard this season!
(I’m going to pause to let the stink of that tortured analogy clear the room. Ok, much better.)
Seriously, though, Charlie Gonzalez has one of the quietest 30-game MASL point streaks in league history. Go look it up! This year, Char-go put up multiple points (double Char-gos!) in 9 of the 10 Fury games played.
Ontario gutted their way through five matches in eight days posting a 3-2 record to close out their regular season, even with Tayou appearing (at least to these eyes) to be slowed by some type of leg injury. A hobbled “King” would normally spell ruin for the Fury, but with Double Char-gos being handed out left and right, Ontario is getting by offensively. Look for Gonzalez to be highly ranked when postseason awards come around.
(P.S.: Good job by Filly and Jonathan this week, particularly given that the duo were announcing indoor soccer for the first time in their lives. I was very impressed with the level of positivity and passion, even for non-Fury matches, and every day showed improvement over the previous day. Welcome to the MASL broadcast family!)
Three Steps in the Right Direction
Listeners to Sockers Overtime could tell you: I’ve been campaigning publicly for the MASL to have three-game series throughout the playoffs since Season 1-Episode 2, when we had commissioner Josh Schaub on the podcast. When I had the chance to go to the 2019 Owners’ Meetings, what was the one topic I made a point to speak to the assembly about? Three-game series throughout the playoffs.
So, needless to say, I’m thrilled the MASL has taken this step. I hope it’s a step that can be repeated and furthered in coming years. The benefits of a longer playoff are deeply rooted and hold long-term growth potential. Playoff series are remembered. Series build momentum within the sport, and in markets as well. A good playoff series can get people who weren’t paying attention at the start to be rapturously focused by the finish.
Beyond the marketing opportunities (in a normal season), there is the competitive advantage as well. You play all season for seeding and playoff entry, why let a team’s fate potentially come down to one bad bounce or unfortunate whistle? A best-of-three doesn’t guarantee that the better team will always win, but it eliminates a layer of randomness that a niche sport doesn’t really need.
I dream of a future when the first round could be best-of-three with a mini-game, the semis could be a best-of-three with three full games, and the Finals could be a full-blown best-of-five. Such a bold set-up would require more facility control, cashflow, and willingness to travel at the end of a season. The benefits, however, would outweigh the costs over time.
To no one’s surprise, St. Louis and Kansas City took care of business at home this weekend against Dallas, and now all the playoff seeds that matter have been settled. With the top spot, Florida can rest, try to get key injured players back, and have two extra weeks to further assimilate their most recent imports from the outside. The risk is losing a bit of fitness or match sharpness, but I’m guessing every vet on the Tropics roster will make that trade happily.
The guessing game comes with the next two seeds, as first Ontario and then Kansas City will get to select their playoff opponent. What is weighed heavier: competitive comparison, or convenience?
Take the Fury, for example. They have the option of selecting to play a one-win team in the Sidekicks. This seems like a no-brainer! But, that choice comes with a plane flight to Texas, a potential flipping of home-field advantage (Dallas has a set arena availability with a TV contract tied to it), and the joy of competing in a state where the mask mandate was ceremoniously lifted. Or, Ontario could pick Tacoma or San Diego, and guarantee themselves two home games with no travel.
A similar conundrum would await the Comets. Let’s say Ontario does pick Dallas. Does Kansas City want to travel West, as they would have to for a KC-SD series (the Sockers would be able to use Toyota Arena for a “home match”), or would they prefer to stay in-state…even if that means playing their rivals from St. Louis?
Choosing an opponent that’s not the one you would have played in standard seeding also means you’re calling them out, at least a little bit. Who wants to do that? Decisions, decisions. Jimmy Nordberg and Leo Gibson are going to be like Indiana Jones at the end of The Last Crusade. Needing to choose…wisely.
That’s it for now. Only one game on the schedule this week, as the Sockers and Sidekicks play on Saturday. San Diego will see if they enter the playoffs on a five-match losing streak, or if they can gain a measure of momentum. We’ll talk to you next week, enjoy the action!
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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.