Empire Downs Host St. Louis 8-7 for First Win of 2023-24

by Empire Strykers

St. Charles, Mo. — The Empire Strykers defeated host St. Louis Ambush 8-7 on Saturday evening to record their first victory of the 2023-24 Major Arena Soccer League (MASL) season. Holding a three-goal lead late in the final quarter, Head Coach Paul Wright's men fought off a late Ambush rally for the narrow win, which came courtesy of a strong opening period and an attacking clinic by Mexican midfielder Gerardo Jurado, who bagged four goals and an assist. St. Louis midfielder William Eskay had four tallies of his own in the contest.
The Strykers came out guns blazing, with Jurado collecting a pair of early helpers. First Claude Bilal Dielna, an alum of Major League Soccer (MLS) and the French Ligue 1, wasted no time in his indoor debut, slotting home to make it 0-1. Then Stefan Mijatovic fired a rocket under the bar to double his side's advantage. The visitors continued their furious start shortly thereafter, Adam James setting up Alan Perez for an easy tap-in. The Ambush would pull one back before the end of the quarter, Strykers 'keeper Brandon Gomez doing well to deny John A Eskay on a wide-open opportunity, only to see Billy Stimac clean up the rebound.  
Empire nearly restored its three-goal cushion in the second period, Justin Stinson smashing a long-range missile off the crossbar. Netminder Gomez subsequently produced an excellent fingertip parry to keep out St. Louis midfielder Lucas Almeida's dangerous drive from a tight angle. Back inside the Ambush area, the visitors from Southern California came within a hair of finding the open net, but James Togbah pulled off a spectacular goal-line clearance that sent Andy Nuñez' seemingly sure finish onto the underside of the bar.  
The Strykers finally made it 1-4 on a beautifully executed counterattack, a wide-open James slotting home after being picked out by former Ambush defender Mijatovic. Empire 'keeper Gomez then came up with a memorable save against Ali Sodal, throwing himself into the midfielder's diving header. At the other end of the turf, St. Louis netminder Jose Ogaz gave evidence of his own shot-stopping abilities, leaving his feet for a two-handed parry that kept out a dangerous shot by Jurado.  
The game's next goal was scored by the home side. Stimac dispossessed Mijatovic deep inside the Empire half and set up an unmarked Robert Kristo, who cut the Ambush's deficit to 2-4. John A Eskay could have pulled another one back for St. Louis, but his powerful attempt bounced off the crossbar.  
After the break, the crowd at The Family Arena again saw one of the goalframes rattled, as St. Louis forward Kristo smashed a hard effort off the right post. St. Louis did cut the opposition lead to one when William Eskay set himself up with a couple of clever stepovers on the right side of the box, followed by a low drive that snuck underneath Gomez and into the net.  
The Ambush had a golden chance to tie the score in the game's closing period, Almeida being denied point-blank on a power play by 'keeper Gomez. The Strykers would punish the home side for the missed opportunity, tallying twice in quick succession to make it 3-6. After Stinson released a shot that went wide left but found the goal via netminder Ogaz' backside, the 24-year-old Ogaz misplayed a ball off the boards, gifting Perez a finish into the open net. William Eskay quickly pulled one back for St. Louis on a Richard Schmermund helper, followed by the day's best goal, scored by Jurado at the other end.  
Having received the ball from Abdul Mansaray, Jurado popped it up to himself outside the box on the right and proceeded to fire an unstoppable volley past Ogaz to make it 4-7. The strike increased the urgency for the Ambush, who played the majority of the remaining time with six attackers. The move paid instant dividends, as Kristo rifled a shot into the upper ninety for a 5-7 score line. However, Empire's Mansaray would reestablish the previous margin, burying his first-time from the doorstep following a pinpoint accurate pass from Nuñez.  
To the hosts' credit, they refused to surrender despite the challenging task of coming back from three goals down late in the match. William Eskay would convert a Togbah assist and set up Almeida to get the Ambush within one, both goals coming with six St. Louis attackers on the field. After surviving the final ten seconds unscathed, the Strykers then took in the final whistle with visible relief, having earned an 8-7 result away from home for their first win of the campaign.
After improving to 1-2 on the campaign, Empire returns to Southern California for its massive home opener against the Baltimore Blast on December 15, likely to feature the club's latest addition and two-time FIFA World Cup veteran, Marco Fabián. Tickets for the blockbuster clash at Toyota Arena in Ontario are available at www.tixr.com/groups/theempirestrykers.

Established in 2013, the Empire Strykers are the Inland Empire's only professional soccer team and one of the flagship franchises of the 13-member Major Arena Soccer League (MASL). Committed to excellence on and off the turf, the Strykers have set a benchmark via a range of community initiatives and youth soccer partnerships. The team plays its home games at Toyota Arena in Ontario and aims to best its U.S. and Mexican competition en route to hoisting the 2023-24 Ron Newman Cup trophy. More information on the Empire Strykers may be found at www.TheEmpireStrykers.com.