Priority Number 1

by Michael Lewis

A great start is one thing. Finishing the same way would be so much better for the Monterrey Flash.

Monterrey has bolted out to a 4-0 start as one of only two undefeated Major Arena Soccer League teams this young season; the Florida Tropics (3-0) are the other side.

While the beginning is encouraging, the Flash would love to finish the 2019-20 campaign the same way with four consecutive victories. Meaning the team would parade around an arena with the elusive Ron Newman Cup trophy as MASL champions.

Monterrey has come so close the past two seasons, twice losing in the final, first to the Baltimore Blast in the 2017-18 championship game and then to the Milwaukee Wave last season.

Needless to say, securing the club's first title since the 2014-15 season is priority No. 1 for the Mexican club. On May 6, the team held a planning session plotting out strategy to strengthen every aspect of the squad.

"We expect that to be in the championship game and we want to win it," head coach Luis Jaime Borrego said. "The season has just started but that is our main goal this season."

So far, so good for Monterrey, which kicked off the season with a 10-8 win at the Sonora Soles on Nov. 22. In the return match at Arena Monterrey three days later, the Flash recorded a 12-4 triumph. The Mexican club continued its Western Division domination with a 14-1 home triumph over the Dallas Sidekicks on Dec. 2 before edging the Mesquite Outlaws on the road, 3-2.

"We are not surprised," said forward Edgar Gonzalez, who leads the league with 11 goals and 15 points. "We are happy with the results. We have worked for that."

On both sides of the ball. While fans attend MASL matches for the goals, you're not going to win many, if any titles, with a tight defense -- goalkeeper, backline and team.

Since conceding eight goals in the season opener, the Flash has allowed but seven in its last three games. Monterrey has an astounding plus 24 in goal differential, outscoring its foes, 39-15.

The team's recipe for success?

Borrego liked the fact that the Flash has a good mix of experienced and young players.

"We had a good performance in the first four games, and we expect to continue getting better," he said. "So, the team could be better and better every game."

Now, that's a scary thought.

For Gonzalez, it goes beyond what transpires on the field. It's the camaraderie off it.

"The big union we have between all of us from the front office to the coaches and all of the players," he said. "We are like a family. That always has given the Monterrey Flash a special strength to be on top."

Monterrey visits the struggling Sidekicks (0-3), whom the team defeated by a considerable margin earlier this month, on Saturday, Dec. 14. Borrego said that the Flash will not be overconfident and will give his rivals the respect they deserve.

The best way to respect a rival "is to play as hard as we can," he said.

"We know it's going to be a different game because now they are on their field with their people," he added. "They have a large playing field. ... Winning by one or by 14 or one is the same for us."

The season might be young, yet 13 Monterrey players have celebrated goals and 14 have recorded at least one point

"I think that it's a good thing for us," Borrego said. "We do not depend on just one player this season. The forwards score, the midfielders score and now even the defense scores."

Defenders Damian Garcia (3 goals, 3 assists), Carlos Pichardo (1 goal, 1 assist), Victor Quiroz (1 goal, 1 assist) and Marco Antonio Tovar (1 goal) also have gotten into the act.

But it certainly doesn't hurt to have a go-to player up front. The Flash has had one in Gonzalez, who is off to a fabulous start. Gonzalez, the 2017-18 MASL rookie of the year, scored 24 and 26 goals in his first two seasons, respectively. He is on a pace to smash that this time around.

A native of Torreón, Mexico the 30-year-old Gonzalez just might be coming into his own. He joined the Flash after playing at Fuerzas Básicas del Club de Futbol Monterrey.

"He has been growing the last five or six years," Borrego said. "He has been better because he has good players that are working with him to help him score. He had a great performance in the mini-football World Cup being world champions. It is a good thing for him. He is working hard. He obviously wants to be one of the leaders, the scoring leader of the league."

Gonzalez felt that will only be for the team's benefit.

"I am trying to maintain this level because I want to help the team as [much] as I can," he said.

"Every day I learn something. Now, I feel more confident. This is my third season. That confidence comes from the [club] president, the coach, Luis Borrego. That confidence is the most important thing ... to get the results."

As well has Gonzalez has filled the net, he has been far from a one-man scoring show. Midfielder Miguel Vaca, a key figure for Mexico in the World Cup, has contributed six goals and two assists. Forward Brayan Aguilar has added five goals and two assists.

"Vaca and Aguilar are both great players," said Borrego, who noted that Vaca "had a tremendous 2018-19 season. We know about his age. He's 38 and he still is in a great physical shape. He scores goals. On the defense, he has a key role because he does what he needs to do.

"Brayan has had a lot of experience and he is also on the top of the list of leaders."

When asked about his most memorable MASL moment, Gonzalez replied, "I would like to say the final, but we had lost the two that I had played in. Every game is important. Every game I try to do my best, but I would like to have a good performance in one final and win a championship. I expect this year, the championship game, could be my most important game."

Gonzalez and Monterrey have gotten off to an encouraging start toward their goal.