Ontario, Calif. — The Empire Strykers went toe-to-toe with one of the top sides in the Major Arena Soccer League (MASL) on Sunday evening, only to fall 8-4 to the Monterrey Flash after missing a golden chance to get to within one in the game's closing period. In front of 3,700 fans at Ontario's Toyota Arena, Empire's Justin Stinson had a brace and an assist while fellow midfielder Marco Fabián had two goals of his own. With the win, the Flash keeps its impressive win streak alive, improving to 15-0-0 (wins-losses-overtime/
shootout losses) on the season. The Strykers drop to 3-10-0.
The clash between Empire and Monterrey was noteworthy for featuring a pair of two-time FIFA World veterans, with Mexico's Fabián representing Empire and Ecuador's Walter Ayoví taking the field for Monterrey.
The visitors drew first blood when a wide-open Edgar González nodded home a helper by Jhon Ponce. The Strykers very nearly drew level shortly thereafter, Momo Gueye embarking on a dynamic solo run down the right before cutting inside and releasing a low driven shot that was kept out by the fingertips of diving netminder Berna Valdovinos. Instead of the equalizer, those in attendance witnessed another tally at the other end. Making his second straight start between the sticks, Empire's Brian Orozco produced an excellent save to deny Daniel Villela but was left without a chance as Irvin Mojica fired home the rebound.
The Flash quickly made it 0-3 inside the second quarter, Mojica picking out Jorge Luis Cortés on a counterattack, followed by the Strykers' first goal of the match. Stinson didn't seem to have much of an angle to shoot on the right but released a wicked right-footed drive that found its way inside the left upright. Any momentum the home side might have gained from the netter was quickly dampened when Ayoví streaked down the left and fired just wide of the near post, the ball trickling over the line via the back of unlucky 'keeper Orozco.
Monterrey should have made it 1-5, but Cortés smashed a sitter off the inside of the right post after being found centrally by way of a brilliant wall pass from the left by Genaro Castillo. The away side subsequently did bag its fifth on a gorgeous power play goal, Cortés chipping the ball across the box from the left and González heading it into the center, where it was nodded home from the doorstep by Castillo. The Strykers came within a hair of cutting their deficit back to three, Fabián receiving the ball near the top of the area and sending a dangerous effort toward the frame that bounced off the inside of the left post.
After Flash netminder Valdovinos came up with an excellent kick-save to deny a dangerous shot by Empire's Stefan Mijatovic, Illinois native Mijatovic turned provider on a Stinson tally that made it 2-5 before the halftime whistle. The game's fiercely contested third period then saw little in the way of clearcut chances until the hosts pulled another one back late, Stinson finding Fabián on a power play. That set the stage for an even more tense final quarter.
Empire continued its spirited rally, launching wave after wave of attacks. The hosts were finally rewarded when Alan Perez laid the ball off to Fabián, who took advantage of a screened 'keeper and smashed it under the crossbar for a 4-5 scoreline. Just as it seemed as though the Strykers might be able to complete the comeback, the Flash got its sixth on a power play, González finishing from Hiram Ruiz. Empire continued to press with six attackers and won themselves a lifeline when Monterrey 'keeper Valdovinos handled the ball outside the box, setting up a Stinson penalty kick with over three minutes left in the match.
With the crowd off their feet in anticipation of the golden chance, the Flash's backup netminder Christian Hernandez made his brief time on the turf count, spoiling the party with a quality save to keep his side up by two. As Empire continued to drive forward with six attackers, the visitors from Mexico would take advantage of the empty net twice to round out the final score at 4-8. After Cortés sent a long ball off the boards and Alexis Espinosa scored courtesy of a spectacular bicycle kick, Ruiz recorded the day's final tally.
The Empire Strykers look to build on their strong showing against Monterrey when they take on the Baltimore Blast and the Kansas City Comets in back-to-back away games on February 9 and 10, respectively. The Southern Californians return to Ontario's Toyota Arena on February 18 for a meeting with the San Diego Sockers. Tickets to the rivalry clash are available at www.tixr.com/groups/theempirestrykers.