MASL Mid-Terms

by Michael Lewis

We've hit the midpoint of the Major Arena Soccer League season as all teams will have played at least 12 games out of their 24-game schedule.

Which means it time to look at the playoff races and some of the top contenders for awards. 

Now, it should be noted, this column will not predict any winners because I have learned many eons ago that much can happen during the second half of a season. A player or team can get hot, or cold. Or a key player can suffer a debilitating injury.

But it's always fun to do some speculation.

The front runners
The Monterrey Flash (14-1) and Florida Tropics (10-1) are atop their respective divisions, Western and Eastern, which has to put them in the catbird seat for playoff glory. That doesn't mean they will win the Ron Newman Cup as MASL champions, because a lot can happen in a one-shot deal in the postseason. Home-field advantage, however, can mean a lot when push comes to shove. 

Still, at this juncture, it is difficult to pick against them. Both sides have been near perfect, with the Flash boasting a plus 63 goal differential and the Tropics at 52. 

As for teams in position to catch those first-place sides: 

In the East, the defending champion Milwaukee Wave (8-3) has the best chance of accomplishing that, although Utica City FC (7-3) cannot be counted out.

In the West, the San Diego Sockers (9-2) are the only club that has a real decent chance of catching Monterrey and they would need some help by some of its rivals. 

Playoff contenders 
The two divisions are incredible pictures of contrast (remember, the top four teams in each division qualify for the playoffs).

Entering this weekend, the Eastern Division has six teams at .500 or higher. Besides the already mentioned teams, the Harrisburg Heat (8-4), Baltimore Blast (6-6) and the Kansas City Comets (6-6) are at that level. And then there's the St. Louis Ambush (6-7) not that far off the pace. It will be interesting to see how the Heat fares the rest of the way because its record has been greatly buoyed by a 6-0 mark over the revived Rochester Lancers (0-11) and it won't play that side again this season. Harrisburg is 2-4 against the rest of the league and must find a way to right itself or the club could wind up on the outside looking in in a couple of months.

Out West, there's a great divide between the haves and the have nots. 

There's Monterrey and San Diego as the sides with healthy records, while the rest of the six teams are below water. Yet, it will make a great race to the postseason with only two berths open. In fact, the third- and fourth-place teams still could finish below .500 and still claim a playoff berth. 

So, who do you think will be playoff worthy come March? The Sonora Soles (5-7), Tacoma Stars (5-7), Ontario Fury (4-7), Mesquite Outlaws (4-8) or the Cal Turlock Express (4-8)? Any two of those five clubs can take the third and fourth slots. And while the Dallas Sidekicks (2-9) occupy eighth and last place, they are still very much mathematically alive, and a hot streak could put them back into the running. 

MVP candidates
History tells us that many the five league MVPs are usually the top goal-scorer or point-getter. Using that as a guide, let's look at the contenders. 

Ontario Forward Franck Tayou, who has won MVP honors in three of the past four seasons, leads with 25 goals with Milwaukee's Ian Bennett (23), Monterrey's Bryan Aguilar (22) and Kansas City's Leo Gibson (22) not too far behind. 

Gibson is the points leader with 38, followed by five players tied with 30 apiece -- Aguilar, Monterrey's Enrique Canez, Tayou, Tacoma Stars' Nick Perera and Florida's Richardo Carvalho. 

And here's an interesting trend: among the players who are awarded one of the three stars after a match, Gibson leads away with eight (four No. 1's, two No. 2's and three No. 2's), followed by Bennett with seven (three No. 1's and four No. 2) and Tayou with six (three No. 1's, two No. 2's and three No. 1's). 

Even if they stand on their head during the regular seasons, goalkeepers and defenders are longshots to take home the award, no matter how well they play. 

Coach of the year
There are many ways to determine coach of the year. Yours truly likes to give it to the team that has made the most improvement. For this season, that would go to Tropics head coach Clay Roberts, whose team has risen to the top of the Eastern Division. Yes, I know that Florida bulked up and then some during the offseason with some experienced and talented players. But as we all know that good players don't always make for a successful side. They have to mesh together.

Saying that, you can't forget about the Flash. A near-perfect record under boss Luis Jaime Borrego ain't too shabby. Those two are the front runners, unless another team or two makes an incredible push during the second half of the season. 

Just who's THE keeper? 

There are so many different ways to judge a goalkeeper. 

It could be goals-against average. Tropics netmind Hugo Silva boasts an impressive 3.61 GAA. 

It could be save percentage. Harrisburg's William Banahene leads everyone with a 76.5 percent save percentage. 

It could be wins. Monterrey's Berna Valdovinos has 11, four more than his closest competitor. 

Or it could be clean sheets. Baltimore's William Vanzela already has two shutouts to his credit and we all know what rare jewels they can be (the rest of the league goalkeepers, incidentally, don't have any). 

Of course, understanding a goalkeeper's worth can go beyond numbers. He could be someone who can come up big when the game is on the line, someone such as Ontario's Chris Toth, San Diego's Boris Pardo or Utica City FC's Andrew Coughlin or Milwaukee's Rafael Dias. 

Spoilers alert
It's been a rough start for the young Lancers (0-11), whose roster is dominated by rookies from Western New York. It has been a harsh learning curve, although the team has played better in recent weeks, if cold numbers -- its record and results -- don't show it. Just wondering if Rochester will improve enough to become a spoiler down the stretch and spoil some team's playoff hopes. Perhaps the Orlando Seawolves (1-9), probably the most disappointing team of the season to date, could do some damage in March as well.