Milwaukee's Tidal Wave

by Michael Lewis

During overtime of the MASL Eastern Conference semifinals in Monterrey, Mexico on Sunday, April 7, forward Milwaukee Wave forward Derek Huffman felt he had gotten a break.

Monterrey Flash defender Ismael Rojo, who had been covering him for most of the series, wasn't.

"He's probably one of the most imposing defenders in the league," Huffman said of the 6-foot-3, 195-lb. Rojo. "He's big, strong. He's good on the ball. He's just a beast everywhere. I was battling him all season."

Instead, the 6-foot, 190-lb. Huffman found himself in a mismatch 5-4 midfielder Erick Rosas marking him in the attacking left wing corner.

"I had it in my head. I was like, wow! Can they give me the ball back?" he said.

Seconds later, Huffman got his wish.

Cesar Correa passed him the ball, one bounce off the left boards. Huffman turned and unleashed a left-footed shot into the upper near corner past goalkeeper Berna Valdovinos for the game-winner in a historic 2-1 triumph at Arena Monterrey.

"As soon as I hit the ball, I felt like this weird relief with the biggest goal you've ever scored," Huffman said. "As soon as that I hit it, I was like, wow, it's over!"

Huffman ripped off his yellow shirt and raced to the far end of the arena with his teammates in tow to celebrate and savor one of the greatest playoff games and moments in indoor soccer history.

After all, how many teams have upset the top-seeded and undefeated team in a playoff series after dropping the first game at home?

Let's put it into perspective.

The Flash finished the regular season 24-0 while scoring a league-high 209 goals and conceding only 104, one less than the Chihuahua Savage for second best.

The Wave qualified as the fourth-place team with a 15-7-2 record.

Monterrey had won the three regular-season encounters between the teams, 9-4, 4-3, and 15-10.

In the opening game of the semifinal series at UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena on April 5, the Flash's domination continued with a 8-7 win, on Hiram Ruiz's sudden-death overtime goal for the team’s 25th consecutive win. That set up what probably what many Major Arena Soccer League fans and observers felt would be an inevitable Monterrey sweep.

"I'm sure probably 95 percent of people thought we're going to lose that series," Huffman said.

But Milwaukee had other ideas. The Wave won the second game, 5-4, on Ricardo Carvalho's goal, which snapped a 4-4 deadlock with 4:10 remaining in the fourth quarter.

"The character that the players showed, I couldn't be prouder of them," Wave head coach Giuliano Oliviero said. "The Waves have seven championships, so it's not the biggest accomplishment. It's probably the least expected and biggest upset in Wave history.

"It was quite a great weekend. Ups and downs. More ups, though."

What made it even more rewarding was that the Wave also pulled off the double upset with several key players sidelined with injuries. Max Ferdinand (knee) and Alex Sanchez (dislocated toe) suffered injuries during Friday's match. Ian Bennett (lower leg), Marcio Leite (knee) and Breno Oliveira (knee) already were out.

"It was a quick turnaround," Oliviero said. "We wanted the players to believe in themselves, in each other, in the team. I think we got that message across. The veteran leadership from Derek Huffman and Mario Alvarez, that was huge for us. They did a great job guiding these young players. The young players' determination was a key factor.

"It speaks volumes about their strong character. Character guys, that's what we want In Milwaukee. We want players that want to win and do what it can do anything to make that possible. We told them in training today, the standard has been set. It hasn't been set by the coaching. It was set by the players in Monterrey. There's no looking back. "

Huffman agreed and elaborated.

"Every game is going to be grueling," he said. "But when it comes down to that locker room and that team, every guy bought into the coach drills. Guiliano is a great leader. Every guy wants to play for him. nothing drops. We didn't have any type of demeanor drops that were negative in practice. We were excited for it."

There was little doubt every player contributed, whether it was blocking shots, clearing the ball out of harm's way or just dumping the ball into the Monterrey end to help the visitors make a line shift.

Oliviero singled out goalkeeper William Banahene, who was outstanding in both encounters. He made eight saves in 60 minutes in the first match and another eight in 25 minutes during the mini-game.

"There were a few sequences where the players sacrificing their bodies, blocking shots and when shots did get past the block, Willie Banahene was phenomenal,” Oliviero said. “Every time we didn't block a shot, our goalie Willie was out of this world."

There also was little doubt the Wave was one tired team, especially the front line.

"Towards the end of that game, I would say that me and the other targets we were switching probably every 30 to 45 seconds. That's how tired we were," Huffman said. "We couldn't stay in the game more than that. We were playing a lot of defense against those guys because they're so good on the ball and they're so good in possession. Part of their plan is trying to run you down on defense when tired legs and then get a tap in at the back post or something."

The strategy worked, allowing Huffman to produce his magic in the left-wing corner for an historic goal.

"It was surreal," Oliviero said. "I had to look twice - I'm not going to lie - like that really just happened. I took a double take just to make sure. What a great feeling. I just felt so great for the players. It was phenomenal."

In the MASL playoffs, the lower-seeded team hosts the first game, with the higher-seeded side getting the second contest and possible mini-game, in front of a friendly audience.

As it turned out, having the first game at home might have helped the Wave.

"We try to look for any mental advantages," Oliviero said. "We told the players, 'Hey, Monterrey had to travel twice. They had to come to Milwaukee and travel back.' "

The Wave caught a direct flight from O'Hare Airport in Chicago at 9 a.m. on Saturday morning and arrived in Monterrey by noon.

Oliviero said that he believed the Flash had a 5:45 p.m. return trip, which was delayed.

Of course, the playoffs are far from finished. The Wave will have to wait for the Utica City FC-Kansas City Comets semifinal series to finish. Utica, who hosts Kansas City today at 6:15 p.m., lost the first match, 5-4, on April 8.

The division finals are tentatively scheduled for April 19 in Milwaukee and April 22 in either Kansas City or Utica, Oliviero said.

"Kansas City, it's been a rivalry for years and years," he added. "We're always in the same division, always fighting. The games are just true battles. Two teams that don't love each other, that's for sure. Keeping our emotions intact and going to K.C. is going to be really important. A lot of times we go there, and we let the emotions get the best of us. That's something that we're going to have to keep in check and let soccer do the talking."

Utica City FC is without its top two goal-scorers, Franck Tayou and Nilton de Andrade, who are competing for the USA at the Concacaf Futsal Championship in Nicaragua.

Last year the Wave defeated Utica in the division semifinals, two games to one, capturing the mini-game.

"Utica had a great season last year and an even better season this year," Oliviero said. "It has turned into a rivalry now that we're in the same conference. We saw each other in the playoffs last year. But they have a lot of great young players on that team. The goal against Utica is to hold them down. They've got a lot of speed.

"Both teams are well coached."

Huffman knows what team he wants to face - the Comets.

"We only got to play Kansas City once this year," he said.

"They're our biggest rivals," he said. "We don't like those guys. Both teams [Utica and the Comets] have a very similar style. They're very good at home. I would like to match up against K.C. for all the marbles. Over the past couple of seasons, we've been battling back and forth.

"We just feel like at this point in the season, it doesn't matter who we play. We're going to be we're literally looking forward to any team. We don't care. We're excited."

There still are plenty of hoops to jump through, but the Wave has hopes of winning an eighth indoor title. Milwaukee’s last championship came in 2019.

"That's the goal every year," Oliviero said. "That's why players want to come to Milwaukee Wave. We have a standard. It was created by coaches from the past. It was created by the players from the past. We had Michael King speak at training today. He actually jumped into training."

King, a member of the Indoor Soccer Hall of Fame, helped the Wave to four indoor crowns during a 15-year tenure. He also recorded 709 and 412 assists in a career that included the Cleveland Force, Dallas Sidekicks, Cleveland Crunch and Baltimore Spirit.

"There's a lot of history here," Oliviero said. "We're happy we won in Monterrey. It was a surprise result. But the job's not done."

And if the Wave completes the job?

"I think it does a lot for the organization, the team, and the players, the young guys who bought in over the year, the local guys," Huffman said. "It's a good thing for the club to have local guys that have come in. We've taught them the game. We've trained them to play our style and it's worked wonders for us."

Huffman said that every player would love to earn a championship ring.

"I don't have one yet," he said. "For me, it’s everything right now."


Michael Lewis, the editor of, can be followed on X (formerly Twitter) at @SoccerWriter. Lewis can be reached via email at He has written two books" Alive and Kicking: The incredible, but true story of the Rochester Lancers and a sequel, STILL AND ALIVE AND KICKING: The story of the 21st century Rochester Lancers. It has many features about indoor soccer and MASL players. Both books can be purchased at