Kick This Midseason Report

by Michael Lewis

As Major Arena Soccer League teams reach the midway point of their 24-game regular seasons, we thought it would be nice to look at the highs, lows and some unofficial mid-season award winners.

Here is a baker's dozen of items to consider (all records and numbers are accurate prior to this weekend's matches):

There is no clear-cut favorite as the race is on. Who do you like? There are several viable candidates. The list includes Tacoma Stars player-coach Nick Perera, who leads the league in points (37) and assists (22), Kansas City Comets forward Leo Gibson, who is next on the list in points (34) and assists (18), Ontario Fury Adrien Perez, who leads the way with 20 goals in only nine games, the El Paso Coyotes' dynamic duo of Hugo Puentes and Jorge Rios, who have 19 goals apiece, San Diego Sockers forward Kraig Chiles, who has a knack for scoring game-winning goals (tied for a league-best four), and Rio Grande Valley goalkeeper Diego Angel Arriaga (league-best 3.50 goals-against average and .794 save percentage). Or perhaps someone will put his best feet forward in the final two months to grab player of the year honors.

Goal-scoring champion
Your guess is as good as anybody's as only four goals separate the eight leading goal-getters. Besides the above mentioned players, the Monterrey Flash's Franck Tayou and Milwaukee Wave's Ian Bennett (17 apiece) and Utica's Slavisa Ubiparipovic and Gibson (both 16) are in the running.

The other MVP
As in Most Valuable Person. While there is no award for it, what Nick Perera has accomplished as a player-coach at the age of 32 in his first season as a boss has been eye-opening and quite remarkable. He has Tacoma in the running for a Pacific Division playoff spot and is leading the league in points and assists. Perera, who has Tacoma (6-6) in the running for a Pacific Division playoff spot, would trade his goals for wins and a postseason berth. Regardless, he has proven, at least through the beginning of February you can burn the candle at both ends.

Coach of the mid-season
Perera is not the only coach who has done well. In his first year as Rio Grande Valley Barracudas FC head coach, Genoni Martinez has turned things around from a team that finished 3-19 last season to a quite healthy 7-3 mark this time around. Heck, RGV was an outstanding 6-0 in January while being named MASL coach of the month. Ryan Hall has made Utica City a difficult side to beat at home and a legitimate contender in the Eastern Conference. And we can't forget about the leaders of teams that could very well finish the season with just a handful of defeats -- San Diego's Phil Salvagio (11-1) and the Milwaukee Wave's Giuliano Oliviero (10-2).

Surprise, surprise
That honor goes to Rio Grande Valley Barracudas FC, which sits in second place in the Southwest Division with a 7-3 mark, more than doubling last season's win total (3-19). While it has been an MASL playoff team the three of the past four years, few observers could not predict what Utica City has accomplished, leading the Eastern Division (9-4), armed with an impressive 6-1 home record, while packing the Adirondack Bank Center.

Some saving graces
The best goalkeeper? Statistically, it is RGV goalkeeper Diego Angel Arriaga (league-best 3.50 goals-against average and .794 save percentage). Both numbers are quite impressive.

Best race for a division title
Actually, two divisions get that honor. It looks like first-place Utica City FC (9-4) and three-time defending champion Baltimore Blast (7-4) could very well go down to the wire in the Eastern Division. Ditto in the Southwest Division as the Monterrey Flash (6-2) and Rio Grande Valley (7-3), which are positioned to battle it out down the stretch.

Best race for a playoff berth
Out in the Pacific Division, the Ontario Fury (7-7) and Tacoma Stars (6-6) will fight it out the rest of the way. In the Southwest, the third-place Dallas Sidekicks (5-6) will need to get hot to make a race of it with second-place Rio Grande Valley (7-3). And in the South Central, the Kansas City Comets (7-5) are in the drivers seat for the second spot unless the St. Louis Ambush (7-8) get its act together. If the Harrisburg Heat (3-7) can string together several more wins, the Eastern Division looks like it’s all but decided.

Counting the houses
The Milwaukee Wave lead everyone in attendance, averaging per game, followed by Baltimore (3,508) and Utica (3,215).

Road warriors
The Sockers have the best road record at 5-0. In fact, they are better away from home, where they are 5-1. In case you were wondering, four other clubs have bettered .500 on the road -- Milwaukee is 5-1, Monterrey and RGV are 3-1 apiece and Kansas City is 3-2.

Road worriers
Not surprisingly, the four teams that are cellar dwellers in their respective divisions haven't won away from their arena. Turlock is 0-8 in the Pacific (which means it will get to play seven of its 11 remaining matches at home), El Paso is 0-4 in the Southwest and must play eight of its final 13 games on the road), the Florida Tropics are 0-6 in the South Central and the Mississauga MetroStars are 0-5 (meaning they have seven more away matches).

The X-factor
Or perhaps we should call it the L-factor, as in Landon Donovan. The former U.S. international will make his Sockers debut on Feb. 15. While the Sockers' fortunes won't be resting solely on his shoulders, Donovan is expected to make an impact to bring the team its first MASL title ever and its first indoor crown since it ran off four consecutive Professional Arena Soccer League championships, culminating in 2012. He turns 37 on March 4.

Playing the spoiler
Barring an incredible turnaround, the Turlock Express (1-12) is likely to miss the playoffs. Still, that doesn't mean the team won't have a say on who gets a chance to reach the postseason out west. Turlock hosts Tacoma Feb. 22 and March 10 and visits Ontario 30. The Express also plays San Diego four times, although barring a major collapse, the Sockers are expected to secure a postseason berth.