The Road to the Playoffs

by Michael Lewis

Life, some say, is not fair. 

That can go double or even triple for the Major Arena Soccer League playoffs. 

The battle for the final postseason spots is an intriguing .... view of contrasts. 

In the Eastern Division, there is a classic and historic fight between two good teams. In fact, it is possible that a team that wins more than 60 percent of its regular-season games won't be able to play in late March or early April.

The Harrisburg Heat (12-7, .632) and Baltimore Blast (13-8, .619) are vying for the fourth and final position. Entering this weekend, the Florida Tropics (15-2, .862) have their eyes on clinching the division title, second-place Utica City FC (13-3, .813) would love to surpass the leaders while defending champion and third-place Milwaukee Wave (12-4, .750) wants to catch Utica to home-field advantage in the opening round. 

Out in the Western Division, it's an entirely different picture. It is possible for the final playoff-bound team to finish below .500 as the fourth-place Soles de Sonora (9-10, .474) and fifth-place Tacoma Stars (7-9, .438) are vying to stay alive for the postseason. 

The first-place Monterrey Flash (18-1, .947) long ago established itself as the team to beat. The San Diego Sockers (13-6, .684) have all but secured second place. While the Ontario Fury (10-8, .556) look secure in third, two or three more wins should go a long way in clinching a playoff spot. The fourth-place Soles de Sonora (9-10, .474) would love to catch the Fury, but it has the Tacoma Stars (7-9, .438) within striking range. The Stars have eight, that's right, eight games remaining. 

The Rochester Lancers (Eastern Division) and Mesquite Outlaws (Western Division), teams that have struggled this season, could wind up being spoilers. 

Here is how things look down the stretch: 

Eastern Division

Baltimore Blast
With only three games remaining in the regular season, the Blast has little room for error. Since it will play only once a week, the squad should be well rested and whatever knocks or injuries that players incur will be able to heal.

Now, this sounds absolutely crazy. Even Baltimore wins out, it still could miss the playoffs, even with a 16-8 record. That's because the Heat has five games left and a little more room to maneuver, although Harrisburg plays against some quality opponents. 

The key contest: vs. the Heat in Baltimore on March 15. 

What's left: (two home games, one road game) 
Feb. 29 -- vs. Rochester Lancers; March 7 vs. Harrisburg Heat; March 15 -- at Milwaukee Wave. 

Harrisburg Heat 
On the optimistic side, the Heat, which has this weekend off, has four home games remaining. On the pessimistic end, four of Harrisburg's final five games are against top-flight competition Baltimore, Utica City (twice) and Milwaukee. Plus, the Heat will be forced to play its final four contests within a 12-game span. If the team lives up to its name and is hot, it could take the team into the playoffs. If not, an excellent rebound season will end in a frustrating manner. 

The key contest: vs. the Blast in Baltimore on March 15. 

What's left (four home games, one road game) 
March 7 -- at Baltimore Blast; March 11 -- vs. Utica City FC; March 15 -- vs. Dallas Sidekicks; March 20 -- Utica City FC; March 22 -- Milwaukee Wave 

Western Division 

Ontario Fury 
Of the three teams still in the running, the Fury finds itself in the best position, thanks to its record and schedule. Outside of a classic collapse, Ontario should reach the post-season. Third place is the Fury's to lose. 

The key contest: vs. the Tacoma Stars on March 7, although the Fury has challenging match-ups against the Wave and Sockers. 

What's left (3 home games, 3 away games) 
Feb. 28 -- at Turlock Cal Express; March 1 -- Milwaukee Wave; March 7 -- Tacoma Stars; March 13 -- vs. Turlock Cal Express; March 14 -- at Turlock Cal Express; March 22 -- at San Diego Sockers. 

Soles de Sonora 
You can't envy Sonora's remaining schedule as it plays the elite of the MASL, twice against Utica City and its final three matches against Monterrey. This weekend could go a long way in deciding Sonora's fate as it hosts Utica City FC on back-to-back nights (Saturday and Sunday). If Sonora does survive, it certainly will deserve a playoff berth. 

The key contests: All five remaining matches. 

What's left (four home games, one road game) 
Feb. 29 -- vs. Utica City FC; March 1 -- Utica City FC; March 6 -- Monterrey Flash; March 14 -- Monterrey Flash; March 16 -- at Monterrey Flash. 

Tacoma Stars 
Like Harrisburg, its good news and bad news for Tacoma. On the plus side, the Stars have the most games remaining -- eight, and that can go a long way in determining their fate. On the negative end, five games are against two of the best sides in the league -- the Tropics and Sockers.

The key contests: You can make a case for the Florida and San Diego games, but there's the March 7 encounter at Ontario, which could strike a fatal blow for either side. 

What's left (five home games, three road games)
Feb. 27 -- Florida Tropics; March 1 -- Florida Tropics; March 7 -- at Ontario Fury; March 8 -- at San Diego Sockers; March 13 vs. San Diego Sockers; March 15 -- at San Diego Sockers; March 19 -- Mesquite Outlaws; March 22 -- Mesquite Outlaws.