EASTERN DIVISION PREVIEW WITH MICHAEL LEWIS
A new look, a new standings system, a new division set-up and a new rule change will help define the 2021-22 Major Arena Soccer League season.
The 12-team indoor soccer league kicks off another campaign on Thanksgiving Weekend with a classic derby, as a new rule will be implemented when rivals Kansas City Comets and St. Louis Ambush clash not once, but twice.
On Nov. 7, the league announced a goalkeeper possession rule change that is expected to increase the attacking pace of a match. Once the goalie or sixth attacker releases the ball by his foot, he is not allowed to touch it again in his defensive half of the field until a foe touches the ball, the ball goes out of bounds or there is a stoppage of play via a whistle.
It will be intriguing to see how that affects the offense and flow of the game.
The rule change is the tip of the proverbial iceberg of innovations for the MASL, which will use a point-based system that is similar to other professional circuits, awarding three points for a regulation victory. If a team wins in extra-time or in a shootout, it will receive two points, with the losing side getting one point.
Instead of deploying two conferences, which were used in 2019-20 campaign before the COVID-19 pandemic closed down the postseason, three divisions will be used:
Eastern Division - Baltimore Blast, Harrisburg Heat, Florida Tropics, Utica City FC
Central Division - Dallas Sidekicks, Kansas City Comets, Milwaukee Wave, St. Louis Ambush
Western Division - Chihuahua Savage, Ontario Fury, San Diego Sockers, Tacoma Stars
The Monterrey Flash, Rochester Lancers and Mesquite Outlaws have elected not to play this season due to Covid protocols and they are expected to return for the 2022-23 season
Each team will play 24 regular-season contests. Each division winner will receive automatic postseason bids and will be seeded from No. 1 to No. 3. The next five best regular-season finishers will book a playoff spot.
The quarterfinal round will pit the top-seeded squad against No. 8, the second-seeded team vs. No. 7, the third seed vs. No. 6 and the fourth seed against No. 5. The winners will advance to the semifinals and those victors will battle for the Ron Newman Cup.
But well before that, we must complete the regular season.
Kansas City Comets and St. Louis Ambush will start the season on Friday and Saturday, Nov. 26 and 27 with a home-and-home series in a battle of Show Me State rivals. The rest of the league kicks off in December. The regular season will run through Sunday, April 3, with the playoffs likely beginning the next week.
In the first of a three-part series, today we look at the Eastern Division:
The Tropics boast the best combined regular season record (28-6) of teams that have competed the past two seasons but have no championship to show for their hard work.
The team posted an 18-3 mark during the 2019-20 campaign, but the pandemic forced the league to cancel the remainder of the season and ultimately the playoffs.
After finishing at an impressive 10-3 during the shortened 2021 season, Florida fell to the eventual champion San Diego Sockers in the playoff semifinals.
So, don't be surprised if the Tropics are a tad on the hungry side.
The team won't have MVP and forward Ian Bennett (19 goals, 27 points), All-MASL first team forward and league-leading scorer who played with the team on loan before returning to the Milwaukee Wave for this season.
But Head Coach Clay Roberts brings back a talented squad that includes captain and midfielder Victor Parreiras, an All-MASL honorable mention pick last season, who has become the face of the franchise as the team's all-time scoring leader (71 goals, 61 assists in 96 matches). He tallied 21 goals and 15 assists last season, third best in the league.
On Tuesday, Nov. 16, the Tropics added to their arsenal by signing former Baltimore Blast standout Andrew Hoxie, who play for three MASL championship sides and has accrued 148 goals and 81 assists in 198 games.
Roberts also will rely on defenders Chad Vandegriffe, an MASL third team selection, and Drew Ruggles, goalkeeper Hugo Silva (4.43 goals-against average, third in the league), an MASL second team selection, and midfielder Ricardo Carvalho (9 assists), another honorable mention pick.
The Tropics kick off their season at the Baltimore Blast on Saturday, Dec. 4 and visits Utica City FC on Sunday, Dec. 5 before welcoming the Ontario Fury at their home opener on Saturday, Dec. 18.
UTICA CITY FC
After sitting out the 2021 season due to the pandemic, Utica City FC is trying to get as much of the old band back together and that probably won't bode well for its foes. Utica finished the 2019-20 season with an impressive 14-6 mark and ready to go deep in the playoffs before the postseason was canceled.
Head Coach Ryan Hall and General Manager Tommy Tanner have several members of the team under contract, including midfielder Cristhian Segura (25 goals, 12 assists), who led the team in scoring in 2019-20, co-captains Bo Jelovac (15 goals, 21 assists), a forward, and Nate Bourdeau (11 goals, 13 assists), a midfielder. Also back is veteran midfielder Moises Gonzalez, the team's second leading scorer (23 goals, 13 assists) two years ago.
Joey Tavernese, a former member of the U.S. Futsal National Team, will bring depth to the forward line. He was a second team All-MASL pick in 2017-18 and has recorded 133 goals and 86 assists in 123 games over nine seasons.
Andrew Coughlin (4.88 GAA, 13-2) and Brian Wilkin will man the goalkeeping positions.
The defense allowed 106 goals, the fifth lowest total in the league in 2019-20. Ben Ramin is back after playing on loan and helping San Diego win the championship last season
Defender Jake Schindler (10 goals, 9 assists) has returned to the team after a 2021 stint with Florida. He will be aided by returnees Onua Obasi and Logan Roberts.
Newcomers include forward Patrick Thompson (2 goals, 3 assists with St. Louis last season) and former Boston College forward Ronaldinho Diniz.
Utica begins its quest for the cup at home against the Florida Tropics on Sunday, Dec. 5. It will then host the Baltimore Blast on Sunday, Dec. 12.
After winning four indoor titles over an eight-year span in which it reached the championship series, the Blast will try to recapture its glory days. Baltimore, which finished second in the Eastern Division and qualified for the semifinals in 2018-19 and took fourth before the playoffs were cancelled the next season, did not compete last season.
The task of becoming an indoor elite side has been charged to former Bermudan international David Bascome, a Blast assistant coach for 15 years, assumed the head coaching position in May 2020.
The Blast's beginning preseason signing was former Baltimore forward Max Ferdinand. The 2010 Major Indoor Soccer League rookie of the year, Ferdinand has accumulated 183 goals and 222 assists in a career that has included five seasons with the Milwaukee Wave and one with the St. Louis Ambush in 2021, where he recorded nine goals and 11 assists in 10 games.
Several familiar names are expected to help the Blast, including midfielders Tony Donatelli (fifth in the league in 2019-20 with 45 points on the strength of 22 goals and 23 assists) and Jonatas Melo (14 goals and a team-high 25 assists) and forwards Juan Pereira (21 goals, 13 assists) and Lucas Roque (10 goals, 9 assists).
Defenders Ibrahima Keita, Adriano Dos Santos (four goals, 16 assists), Mike Deasel and Jereme Raley will form the backline.
Goalkeeper William Vanzela has returned to the Blast after helping the San Diego Sockers capture the 2021 title (4.03 GAA).
Baltimore plays its first two contests at home, welcoming the Florida Tropic on Saturday, Dec. 4 and then the Milwaukee Wave on Saturday, Dec. 11.
Like Utica and Baltimore, the Heat will return to action after sitting out a season as it hopes to celebrate its 30th anniversary and continue its ways during the 2019-20 in which it forged a 13-8 mark for a .619 winning percentage.
Harrisburg General Manager and Head Coach Pat Healey has tried to bring back as many players as he can from that squad.
The attack is expected to revolve around forward Dom Francis, who finished fourth in the league in goals (34) in 2019-20. He has returned after a loan stint with the Kansas City Comets (4 tallies and 2 assists in 5 regular-season games, and 10 playoff goals). Midfielder Danny DiPrima (3 goals, 10 assists) also will contribute.
Goalkeeper William Banahene, nicknamed “Will the Wall,” is expected to be in net again (8-5 and 5.25 GAA in 2019-20). He will be aided by defenders Stephen Basso, the 2016-17 MASL defender of the year, Dylan Hundelt (13 goals, 3 assists two years ago), Elton de Oliveira, who was loaned to the Tacoma Stars last season, Matt Braem, Michael DeGraffenreidt and Bradley Kerstetter. David Mellor is back for his fourth season with the club.
Malcolm Harris, an MASL All-Rookie selection, also will man the midfield.
The Heat gets a later start to the campaign, visiting Utica City FC on Friday, Dec. 17 before hosting its New York foes in its home opener on Saturday, Dec. 18.
Check back this afternoon as we turn our focus on the Central Division!