by Craig Elsten

Here Comes the West

The first three weeks of the season have brought us some exciting games, a handful of close finishes, and a dominant Florida side. Our “early adopters” in the MASL have paved the way, and the four host cities for 2021 of Lakeland, St. Louis, Kansas City and Dallas have been established.

Now, the most impressive aspect of the MASL’s experimental season is about to begin, as three teams hit the road, permanently.

The Tacoma Stars, San Diego Sockers and Ontario Fury will each debut separately in the next three consecutive weekends, before all three travel to Florida for a round-robin tourney later in February. The competitive level is rising, as well as the level of commitment to the sport.

You see, the Stars, Sockers and Fury entered the year fully understanding that they stand to gain nothing financially for their efforts. The states of California and Washington are taking COVID very seriously, and the opportunity for safe mass gatherings indoors is still months away at the earliest.

Nonetheless, these clubs are suiting up, training, traveling and playing; a long and winding road that involves an instant concession of all the advantages and comforts of home. There will be no fan support, except from afar. There will be no cheering crowds, except potentially against them. There will be literally no games in their own time zones, where their biorhythms are accustomed to success.

The only hope is to stay healthy, avoid illness and injury, and make it to a playoff tournament as-yet undefined, where again the only known will be that these three clubs are *not* going to have any advantages whatsoever.

Regardless of how you feel about any particular aspect of this unconventional season, you have to tip your caps to the owners of the Stars, Sockers and Fury. They are putting the health of their sport in front of the health of their respective pocketbooks, keeping players and staff employed when the easy thing would have been to shut down.

Our sport is a little low on casual fans right now, but if you are someone without a dog in the fight, or your team is taking the season off, it’s easy to see how for a few months, the (Shooting) Stars, (Wandering) Sockers and (Nomadic) Fury could be worthy of your (virtual) support.

February Florida Frenzy (Somebody Scream!)

The hub of arena soccer next month will be the RP Funding Center in Lakeland, Florida, where our Western wanderers will all congregate for a four-day, six-game, four-team round robin with the host Tropics. There will be day-night doubleheaders on February 18th, 19th and 21st, starting on Thursday the 18th with the Tropics vs. Stars, followed by the Sockers vs. Fury.

It’s great to see that all four teams will be taxed the same in terms of having to play three matches in four days...but like so many taxes, there is unequal impact. Florida has a massive advantage in games played, as all the Western clubs will likely need this mini-tournament to achieve match fitness. The wanderers will need to be careful to avoid injury, picking and choosing which veterans have to sit a game.

One advantage for the viewers could come in non-Tropics matches, if the folks at RP Funding Center are kind enough to not pay the local DJ to come out and make a day of it. Watching a match from Lakeland without being told “We’re in striking distance…SOMEBODY SCREEEEAAAAAM!!!” a half-dozen times or more would be a uniquely welcomed experience.

Your Hidden Hero of the Week (Part One)

Duduca had the equalizer, Sam Guernsey the game-winner, and five players had multi-point nights. But the hero of Saturday night’s come-from-behind 7-6 St. Louis Ambush win over Kansas City was Magui Souza.

It was the third quarter, the Comets had built a 4-3 halftime lead out to 6-3, and Rian Marques was about to net a hat trick and make the score 7-3. He had boxed out the keeper Paulo, turned him like a revolving door, had a yawning goal mouth in front of him, and the ball floating down to his head. But Magui Said No.

Just a couple minutes later, Vadim Cojocov scored the first of his two consecutive goals, and the Ambush were on the comeback trail. But not without Magui! You never know what’s going to turn a match of indoor soccer.

Hidden Hero of the Week (Part Two)

Speaking of Vadim Cojocov…I’m here for personalized and specific signs of support directly behind the team benches. Let’s make this a thing.

Vadim Cojocov came into the match, and he had some things on his mind. Defensive alignments, apparently. One-v-one, and press. Maybe he was talking about it at breakfast. Who knows? Thankfully, Vadim’s family had his back.

It’s a little bit obscured between the bars of the barrier in front of it, but you can see it:

#8 Go Vadim! 1 v 1 & Press

Well doggone it, Vadim pressed, he took on his defenders 1 v 1, and he scored a brace. The sign worked!

I want more player-specific, action-specific support signs!  Here’s three to get you started.

#37 Let’s Go Chiles! Free Kick & Power Play

#15 Go King Tayou! Chest Trap & Turn to Right

#80 Here We Go Pablo! Pass It Back to Perera Now

I can dream, can’t I?

Enjoy the action this week, everyone! Stay healthy out there.

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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.