CRAIG'S CORNER WEEK 9
Welcome back to the corner, where the whistle could go either way…
Excellence Under the Arch
It was a big weekend for the St. Louis Ambush, moving back to .500 with a pair of tight wins over the San Diego Sockers. At 6-6, with players like Lucas Almeida starting to find their way off the training table and into the lineup, and others on the way, it appears that Team Interesting is back. The Ambush aren’t going to be a top selection for the postseason tourney to come, but they will be a mystery, and a conundrum for opponents.
A moment to appreciate Magui Souza: this kid clears a goal off the line seemingly every game. He’s saved at least three sure goals by acting as the true last line of defense, standing on the line when the adventurous Paulo goes out to cut down the angle. In Sunday’s 6-4 win to complete the series sweep, Magui picked up a steal and goal late in the first quarter to even the score 1-1. A few minutes later in the second quarter, he was guarding the far post when San Diego’s Eduardo Velez ripped a half volley at his placement in goal. Unfazed, Magui put his face right in the path of the ball, heading away what would have been an equalizer at the time.
All my life, from childhood to adulthood, I’ve never been able to square the idea of seeing a well-struck ball come right at your face, and staying there. Probably why I’m a really bad keeper.
Harrisburg imports William Eskay, Jerjer Gibson and Patrick Thompson have all contributed to the Ambush recovery, and this fortified squad is as good a pick as any to win an opening round Ron Newman Cup playoff matchup. I still feel like St. Louis will miss Duduca before all is said and done, but with the contributions of Vadim Cojocov and Stefan Mijatovic, the Ambush have the ability to attack from anywhere on the field.
Next weekend should be a good test, as the high-flying Fury and hungry Stars come to town. Will Team Interesting further define itself, or go 1-1 and stay in the undecided column?
Of course, there are two sides to every story, and while the Ambush succeeded, the San Diego Sockers most definitely failed. Full disclosure: I’m a full-time Sockers employee, first worked for the team from 2009-15, and again from 2017-present. I have personal relationships with basically every coach, front office staff member, and player, and probably most of the fans too.
This is an opinion column about the MASL, and there are a lot of opinions flying about the Sockers right now, including from their head coach. In an interview with Phil Salvagio after Sunday’s loss in St. Louis, the frustration reached a boiling point.
“We gave a lot of players chances to play, and to show what they had,” said Salvagio, “They didn’t show up today.”
“My guys don’t put the effort in,” Salvagio continued, “If you look around the league right now, every team that’s putting in the effort, they’re looking sharp. We don’t have the players that want to work hard, and put the effort in on off-days. They want to look good, and get their opportunities, but when they get the opportunity, they’re not ready for it.”
Later in the interview, Salvagio intimated that there may not be a place at practice for some of the players going forward.
“It’s really up to them…I don’t know if I’m going to have everyone at training.”
Yikes. Did I mention that’s my boss? So…
How’s The Weather Lately?
Really nice out here of late! We had some rain a couple weeks ago, but we’re starting to see those sunny skies that folks associate with San Diego, California. Clear, light-blue sky today, barely a wisp of cloud. It’s gonna be 73 degrees today.
It’s really nice.
Shouldn’t You Get Back to the Topic?
Fine. Look. Here’s a positive spin on the Sockers’ current predicament. If the San Diego players truly didn’t care about each other, or the opportunities they have been presented, they wouldn’t be leading the league in defense and save percentage. If it were a shooting gallery, the Sockers would have allowed more goals than the current high-water mark of six (which included a goal against six attackers). Teams that don’t care, don’t defend. Defense is HARD, especially in the indoor game. Teams that don’t care try to outscore you, but don’t track back on defense.
The Sockers have three games remaining, and then it looks like everyone will make the playoffs. As such, to quote the great American philosopher The Rock, “it doesn’t matter!” A 3-7 Sockers team could win all their playoff games 3-2, and win the Cup.
What mystifies is the club’s lack of offense. If there was ever a club that *should* be able to survive the loss of formerly reliable scorers Kraig Chiles and Slavisa Ubiparipovic, it’s a lineup that includes past 30+ goal scorers like Gordy Gurson, Christian Gutierrez and Taylor Bond as second-liners.
All it would take is a little bit more offense, and suddenly these tie games in the fourth would be two-goal leads with a chance to dictate pace and force mistakes. San Diego doesn’t need to have the league’s best offense, or even an average offense! All they would need is about a goal more per-game, maybe a goal-and-a-half, and suddenly, the outlook would go from gloomy to glorious.
However, as it stands, the Sockers are dead last in the league in scoring, with 24 goals in 7 games. 24 goals in 7 games! That used to be a weekend’s output for these guys. Nine of those 24 goals (37.5%!) come off the toes of Brandon Escoto. A sextet of long-standing MASL core players (Brian Farber, Eduardo Velez, Gordy Gurson, Hiram “Pollo” Ruiz, Marcio Leite, Guerrero Pino) have a combined zero goals. Throw in Chiles (one goal, no assists) and Slav (one goal, no assists) and, well, you’ve got two goals now. That’s unfathomable.
Shouldn’t it be equally unfathomable that it continues as such? In a season with time to play and work it out, and home games to help settle and support, the answer would unequivocally be a yes. In this peculiarity of a season, the Sockers have a week to train, and then three road games in a week, and then at least one more road trip for a playoff game. Anything that’s going to change, has to change now. Otherwise, this will all be over before they know it.
If there ever was a team that should be able to circle the wagons, it’s a team with as many veteran legs—and brains—as currently reside in the Sockers’ locker room. But, how will those players react to their head coach calling them out directly? Did I mention that’s my boss?
Nice weather we’re having lately.
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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.