Monterrey, Nuevo León, Mexico — The Empire Strikers showed plenty of promise in their away clash with Mexico's Monterrey Flash on Sunday afternoon, only to fall 9-2 courtesy of a third-quarter collapse and the standout play of Monterrey's Jorge Luis Cortes, who bagged a hat-trick. While Empire forward Abdul Mansaray earned himself a brace, it wasn't enough for the visitors from California, whose lack of experience became evident against a well-oiled attacking machine and one of the traditional powerhouses of the Major Arena Soccer League (MASL).
While the opening quarter didn't feature much in the way of dangerous chances, it did see a vastly improved performance by the Strykers compared to Friday's 8-1 loss at Chihuahua. Head Coach Paul Wright's men seemed to be pressing higher, running harder, and showing an overall increased intensity and physicality. The best look of the period came when Monterrey's Alvaro Bocanegra drove toward the box centrally and released a powerful drive that was punched clear by Empire 'keeper Brandon Gomez.
Early in the second quarter, the Strykers would reward themselves for their hard work. On a long clearance that sailed deep into Flash territory, defender Ismael Rojo seemed to be in control as he attempted to shield the ball for Christian Hernandez to collect on the right side of the area. However, Mansaray refused to give up on the play and steered a toe-poke right past the approaching goalkeeper and inside the far post.
The home side responded well to the setback, coming close to equalizing with a pair of chances in quick succession. First, Cortes went just right of the frame, followed by a dangerous Genaro Castillo look. The Flash finally did find the net on a power play. After Gomez had displayed outstanding positioning to block a Cortes attempt from point-blank range, the Strykers goaltender was subsequently left helpless against the 28-year-old. Castillo smashed a ball off the board that dropped near the goal and was nodded under the crossbar by Cortes.
The visitors could have reclaimed the lead when Justin Stinson threaded the ball through to Lucas Roque and the Brazilian-American failed to convert from the doorstep, seemingly surprised by the open look. After the Flash's Alexis Espinosa blasted a shot off the crossbar and Empire's Stefan Mijatovic denied Jhon Ponce with a sliding goal-line clearance, Mansaray had the first of two golden Strykers opportunities at the other end. The 27-year-old dispossessed an opposition player in midfield and sprinted toward goal, only to poke the ball over the frame. Then Andy Nuñez was denied one on one by onrushing netminder Christian Hernandez, Roque having done well to find his teammate with a touch off the boards.
The wheels would come off for Empire in the third quarter. The visitors were highly unlucky to find themselves behind, as a falling Nuñez deflected Erick Rosa's shot with his heels to leave Gomez without a chance. The Strykers 'keeper then came up with a great save to deny Espinosa, followed by a Cortes tally that made it 3-1. The midfielder-defender cleaned up after his own initial shot, which had been well blocked by Gomez.
Flash netminder Berna Valdovinos subsequently did well to tip a header by Quenton Swift over the bar, and Gomez produced another quality save to help deny Edgar Gonzalez' double chance on a power play. Looking to pounce on the rebound, Gonzalez sent his follow-up inches wide of the right post.
The hosts capitalized on the man advantage after all when Gonzalez cleaned up after Hicham Ruiz saw his point-blank attempt stopped by Gomez. The Flash added a fifth not long thereafter, Alexis Espinosa netting on a breakaway, followed by an Uriel Zuart steal and fierce shot inside the left upright to make it 6-1. Having subsequently set up Ruiz for the game's next goal, Ismael Rojo could have bagged one of his own, but his wicked shot bounced off the left upright.
The Flash did make it 8-1 on a power play in the final quarter, Cortes firing home the assist by Ponce. After Strikers 'keeper Alan Solorio shined to prevent an opposition goal on his own team's powerplay, denying Zuart from close range, defender Mijatovic tested Monterrey shot-stopper Valdovinos with a rocket from well outside the box. Back to even numbers, Romo then added his name to the score sheet by firing a low long-range drive off the inside of the right post for one of the game's more impressive goals. Ponce had laid the ball off on a free kick from the right.
Empire's Mansaray added his second of the contest as Gerardo Hurado assisted, rounding out the 9-2 final score. His side's most dangerous attacker on the day, Mansaray could have pulled back another, but netminder Valdovinos had other plans, making himself big and managing to block the attempted finish with his left arm.
The Empire Strykers will aim for continued growth in their December 9 away meeting with the St. Louis Ambush. The team's highly anticipated home opener against the Baltimore Blast at Ontario's Toyota Arena is set for December 15. Tickets are available at www.TheEmpireStrykers.com.