EASTERN DIVISION PREVIEW
Like the San Diego Sockers in the Western Conference, the Florida Tropics are the team to beat in the East.
The Tropics have been the beasts of the east the past several season.
The only thing they have lacked has been a victory lap with the Ron Newman Trophy as the best team in Major Arena Soccer League.
The 14-team MASL, which kicks off with a home-and-home series between the Kansas City Comets and St. Louis Ambush this holiday weekend, has a new alignment.
The Western Division includes the San Diego Sockers, Monterrey Flash, Chihuahua Savage, Tacoma Stars, Dallas Sidekicks, Empire Strykers and Mesquite Outlaws.
The Florida Tropics, Milwaukee Wave, Baltimore Blast, Kansas City Comets, St. Louis Ambush, Utica City FC and Harrisburg Heat comprise the Eastern Division.
Last season, the MASL had three four-team divisions. With the addition/return of two clubs, the league decided to switch to a pair of divisions.
The 2022-23 regular season will run through Sunday, April 2, with the playoffs following.
The top three teams in each division will qualify for the postseason. The fourth- and fifth-place clubs in the divisions will meet in a play-in match to decide the final playoff berth. In the quarterfinals, the top-seeded team in each division will meet the No. 4 seed, while the second- and third-place teams will face off. The winners will meet in the division finals with the victors moving on to the championship series.
Here is a look at the Eastern Division:
The Tropics have been one of the leading teams the past several seasons, just falling short of winning a league title. Perhaps this season will be the charm. After posting an 18-3-2 regular season record under head coach Clay Roberts, they lost to the Sockers in the championship series.
Like the Sockers, the defending Eastern Division champions bring back a talented cast that is aiming to win another division title.
The core of last year's Eastern Division champions returns with plenty of talent, firepower and defensive prowess to make another run for the title again.
Midfielder Victor Parreiras (29 goals, 23 assists), an MASL Elite Six selection, leads an impressive attack. He is complemented by a pair of lethal forwards in Zach Reget (27 g, 16 a) and Ricardo Carvalho (24 g, 19 a).
An imposing backline is led by veterans Chad Vandegriffe, the MASL defender of the year, Drew Ruggles (12 g, 14 a), and JP Reyes, who played for the U.S. National Arena Soccer Team against Mexico in August.
Veteran forward Vini Dantas, who has scored 194 goals with the Baltimore Blast and Tacoma Stars, was the biggest offseason acquisition. It certainly doesn't hurt that Dantas knows has to win league titles as he was a vital part of Baltimore's three consecutive MASL championships from 2017-19.
Former Dallas Sidekicks midfielder-forward Julio Varela (10 g, 7 a) also joined the team in the offseason, adding even more depth.
One of the most storied franchises in indoor soccer history, the Blast (12-9), will try to recapture the glory of past years, when it won three consecutive MASL titles from 2016-18. Baltimore finished second in the East last season.
The team's five top scorers from last season return as midfielder Jonatas Melo (22 g, 18a), forward Lucas Roque (26 g, 13 a), midfielder Tony Donatelli (22 g, 16 a) and forwards Juan Pereira (17 g, 10 a) and Jamie Thomas - form a superb attack nucleus.
Defender Adriano Dos Santos and Ibrahima Keita head up a backline that allowed 111 goals last year, the second lowest total in the league.
Head coach David Bascome also will count on several other veterans such as midfielder Josh Hughes and forwards Max Ferdinand, who earned Major Indoor Soccer League rookie of the year honors in 2010 and a member of the 2018-19 All-MASL first team, and Howard Miller.
William Vanzela, who played 15 games in the net, and Zack Haussler are the goalkeepers.
Kansas City Comets
There's nothing like having experience in the great indoors, and the Comets (13-9-1) have plenty of that.
That has to make player coach Leo Gibson happy. Gibson (26 g, 17 a), an MASL second team selection, leads an experienced side that will bring back several leading scorers. That includes defender John Sosa (14 g, 23 a), forward Rian Marques (21 g, 9 a) and midfielder Lucas Sousa (22 g, 7 a).
The attack also has been fortified by the signings of forward Ramone Palmer and midfielder Nacho.
Richard Schmermund, Ray Lee, Mirko Sandivari and James Togbah head up an experienced backline.
Goalkeeper Nicolau Neto (4.91 GAA), who started 13 of his 15 games he played in last year, is back. Steven Tekesy and Josue Mazon, who played with the St. Louis Ambush last year, are the other netminders.
Midfielder Absa Solorio, who sustained a knee injury during his rookie season last year, has retired.
The Comets have a history of signing local players and this year has been no exception as former Sporting Kansas City Academy player, midfielder- defender Chase Bromstedt.
Regardless of what transpires on the field, Kansas City already has made history. Earlier this the week, the Comets signed Jenna Winebrenner, a Kansas City Current defender (National Women's Soccer League) as the league's first female coach. She will be an assistant coach.'
St. Louis Ambush
Head coach Jeff Locker has revamped the Ambush (10-12-2), which reached the 2021-22 playoffs after finishing fourth and last in the Central Division.
He will need to find some goal-scorers after losing their top two threats in the offseason.
On the optimistic side, midfielder WIlliam Eskay (19 g, 6 a), the team's third-leading scorer last season, is back, as are forwards Robert Kristo (18 g, 7 a) and Duduca Carvalho (12 g, 6 a). Carvalho and defender Jeff Michaud signed five-year contracts, which will keep them in St. Louis uniforms through the 2027 season.
The Ambush has fortified the backline with a pair of key additions in Kevin Ellis, who competed for the rival Comets, and Tyler Turner, who played with Milwaukee last year.
Veteran midfielder Lucas Almeida has added responsibilities as assistant coach.
Mark Baker and Jose Ogaz are slated to pick up the goalkeeping load after Eduardo "Pollo" Cortes left to join Mesquite.
Head coach Giuliano Oliviero, who directed the Wave to the 2018-19 league championship, has put together a team of veterans and newcomers with hopes of returning to the postseason in what is expected to be a competitive Eastern Division. Milwaukee finished in the Central Division basement with a 10-12-1 record.
The Wave's ultimate success is expected to rest on the shoulders and feet of MASL MVP Ian Bennett (50 g, 12 a, 62 pts), who also earned Golden Boot and leading scorer honors.
A welcome newcomer is goalkeeper Will Banahene, who has brought his excellent shot-stopping skills from the Harrisburg Heat to the Wave.
The ever versatile and ageless Marcio Leite (7 g, 23 a), 38, an MASL second team selection who has played for four indoor championship sides, is another valuable member of the squad as he has played every position.
Midfielder Luan Oliveira (17 g, 12 a) and defender Derek Huffman (10 g, 9 a) are expected to contribute again.
Stuart Grable and Andrew Wiedabach, whose 2021-22 campaign was limited to three games because of injury, are the cornerstones of the defense. Another versatile player, Mario Alvarez can be a playmaker or defender.
Utica City FC
The charge of new head coach Hewerton Moreira is quite simple: turn Utica City FC into the team that enjoyed three successive winning seasons.
Replacing Ryan Hall after a disappointing 10-14-0 campaign, Moreira, is a 15-year indoor veteran who most recently directed the St. Louis Ambush, has hopes of coaxing more out of the upstate New York squad and move it up several places.
Utica City's top four scorers return - forward Joey Tavernese (19 g, 10 a), Nate Bourdeau (17 g, 8), Cristhian Segura (15 g, 8 a) and Bo Jelovac (8 g, 9 a) and they need to increase their production. Veteran forward Gordy Gurson, who has filled the net for some of the top MASL clubs, most recently with the Milwaukee Wave, is expected to bolster the attack.
Former Harrisburg Heat defender Dylan Hundelt is among the additions.
Andrew Coughlin and Brian Wilkin will guard the goal.
In a unique way to prepare for the regular season, Utica City FC will break up its team into USA and World squads and play a pre-season game before Spain and Germany clash in a World Cup match on Sunday, Nov. 27 at 2 p.m. ET.
Head coach Pat Healey has work cut out to do. He needs to find a way to improve the Heat (4-19-1) on both sides of the ball. Harrisburg scored the least number of goals (108) and allowed the third most (169) for a minus 61 goal differential.
The Heat has its five top scorers back - forward Dom Francis (19 g, 5 a), midfielder Malcolm Harris (12 g, 15 a), defender David Mellor (13 g, 4 a), and midfielder Alejandro Chavez (10 g, 7 a) and Danny DiPrima (7 g, 8 a).
Veteran forward Andrew Hoxie, who played with Utica City and the Florida Tropics last year, has been brought in to help boost the offense.
Defenders Robert Williamson, Bradley Kerstetter, Stephen Basso and Matt Braem and forward Raphael Araujo are among the other returnees.
Harrisburg lost its No. 1 goalkeeper William Banahene, who signed with the Wave, which means Darian McCauley could get the call in the net.
Michael Lewis, the editor of FrontRowSoccer.com, can be followed on Twitter at @SoccerWriter. He can be reached via email at Michael@FrontRowSoccer.com. His book Alive and Kicking: The incredible, but true story of the Rochester Lancers, recently was published. It can be purchased at https://tinyurl.com/2p8rzhpy.