Around The League With Joseph Reina
*The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the viewpoints or positions of the Major Arena Soccer League.** @josephreina21
With at least two games under every team’s belt, we can finally start to compare and contrast their performances with some form of accuracy and reliability. It can be tempting to simply check the scores and maybe take a peak at the standings, but much more has transpired below the surface. Let’s go Around the League and discuss five takeaways from Week 3 in the MASL.
FIVE TAKEAWAYS FROM WEEK 3
REBUILD YEAR FOR THE BLAST?
If you include last season’s Ron Newman Cup Final, Baltimore’s 10-6 loss to Utica City FC marks the first time the Blast has conceded over nine goals in three consecutive games since joining the MASL in 2014. That’s not just home games or during the regular season. This has never happened before.
Baltimore is truly in uncharted territory. The squad appears to be in rebuild mode this season after many of their star players left for pastures new, including Lucas Roque, Vini Dantas, and Nelson Santana. Be that as it may, the performances as a team just have not been good enough, and most of the wounds thus far have been self-inflicted.
During the loss to Utica, Baltimore racked up a whopping six penalties, including three yellow cards. This game was chippy on both sides, no doubt about it, but these sorts of penalties are inexcusable. They set teams back for absolutely no reason and only add to the suffering.
In attack, Tony Donatelli played a great game as he registered three goals and an assist, but defensively, the Blast just needs to do better. Baltimore recorded two more cards than blocks, with just four on the night giving goalkeeper Quantrell Jones little to no help.
Utica took advantage of their power plays twice in the match, something that Blast head coach David Bascome will want to work on heavily going forward. All in all, it was just a night to forget at the TU Arena. The Blast will hope to rebound on Friday, Dec. 15 at 10:35 p.m. EST, when they travel to Southern California to take on Empire.
ARE MONTERREY FAVORITES IN THE EAST?
After a thoroughly dominant start to the season, Monterrey traveled to Milwaukee for its first road game and found a way to win despite a performance that left a lot to be desired.
On the back of a three-goal performance from Ian Bennett, the Wave managed to keep the game close, but ultimately the night belonged to José Antonio Medina, whose second and third goals proved to be the difference. His three strikes, which came in the third quarter, late in the fourth quarter, and overtime respectively, were all truly remarkable but his game-winner was the pick of the bunch. Last week’s offensive player of the week certainly has a claim for this week’s crown as well.
If it weren’t for Medina, this story would look very different. The Flash created great scoring chances and played dynamic, creative, and attractive soccer but failed to convert those chances into goals with any sort of consistency. Wave goalkeeper William Banahene had a good night making several key saves, but his performance was overshadowed by Monterrey simply missing the target.
In addition to the attacking inaccuracies, Monterrey earned three penalties in the match, including their second red card this season. The power plays and set pieces were crucial as Milwaukee turned three such situations into goals, showing just how important these sequences of play are in the indoor game.
And yet, despite the penalties, the misses, and the lackadaisical attitude towards set pieces, Monterrey won. They found a way. Predictions and warning signs for the future are just that. For right now, Monterrey is an extremely skilled and scarily able team, on the precipice of greatness.
Clean up the mistakes, cool it with the unnecessary fouls and cards, and trust that goals will come because they’ve proven they will. Even on a night when it looked like the house of cards was about to collapse, their talent shone through to find a way. Next up, is a date with Chihuahua at the Corner Sport Arena on Friday, Dec. 15 at 9:00 p.m. EST. The winner will set itself up for a strong campaign and set the tone for this season-long rivalry.
DALLAS FLIPS THE SCRIPT WITH AN OVERTIME WIN.
Overtime has not been a friend to Dallas. The golden goal is notoriously among the cruelest ways to lose in the sport and last year, Dallas succumbed on three separate occasions to this unenviable fate. Twice to the Outlaws. Once to Tacoma. By the slimmest of margins. Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
This year, the Sidekicks opened their season with a brutal 22-5 loss on the road against Monterrey. More of the same it seemed. But from the ashes, opportunity arose. A new chance at a fresh start. Their home opener against their local rivals followed and in retrospect, that match in Monterrey couldn’t have mattered less. It was all about the Outlaws. It was all about revenge.
Blas Pérez led the way in attack with a hat trick while VcMor Eligwe added two goals and an assist for himself, but the night’s hero was Gustavo Piedra. The 28-year-old’s goal was a sight to behold for Sidekicks fans, as he tucked his shot past Texas goalkeeper Jesus Rivera.
It’s a stake in the ground for Ed Puskarich’s side to show exactly what they’re capable of. They’re not happy with just one win. They want more. They want to contend and prove this performance was more than a flash in the pan.
In fairness to the Outlaws, they had just played in Chihuahua on Thursday night, but at the end of the day, a loss is a loss, and when they opened the door, Dallas rushed in. This defeat is far from a condemnation of Texas’ team this season. They will bounce back and win more games, but last season’s sweep over their neighbors is last week’s news. They’re the challengers again, and they’ll have to reclaim the throne when these two sides meet again on Dec. 23 at the Mesquite Arena. But first, the Sidekicks and Outlaws will host the Sockers and Comets respectively this Saturday, Dec. 16 at 8:00 p.m. EST.
EMPIRE GETS THE WIN AHEAD OF MARCO FABIÁN’S ARRIVAL.
Empire’s biggest talking point going into week three had nothing to do with their play on the turf. Instead, the team’s move to acquire former Mexican International Marco Fabián garnered lots of attention, and rightfully so, but as I mentioned last week, his arrival changes expectations for this season.
Wins need to happen. They don’t necessarily need to become the best team in the league, but qualifying for the playoffs is a requirement. Up to this point, their play has not looked to be of that standard, but a trip to St. Louis was a great opportunity to get their season back on track.
The two sides have struggled equally to find the back of the net so far this season, but this game bucked that trend viciously. Empire ran out 8-7 winners in a back-and-forth affair that saw William Eskay of the Ambush score four and Gerardo Jurado bag a sensational goal and four assists.
The Strykers are loaded with talent, and it’s frankly been a shock that they haven’t been among the best in the league so far. When you see the likes of Israel Sesay, Justin Stinson, and Stefan Mijatovic on the same team, there are high expectations, and deservedly so. Now add in Fabián’s name and resume and there are no longer excuses for Empire. They have the talent, now they need to become a cohesive unit. The win against St. Louis looked like a massive step in the right direction, but it is still way too soon to get comfortable.
Could this performance be the catalyst to take the Strykers’ play to the next level? Only time will tell, but with the addition of Fabián, and this talented Empire side firing on all cylinders, there’s no reason why they can’t compete with the San Diegos and Chihuahuas of the world.
HOW HAS THE THREE-REFEREE EXPERIMENT WORKED?
I will preface this piece by saying that the league has not yet completed the trial period, but there are things we can gather just from having watched the games. It’s an ambitious and creative solution that the league has put forward to try to make the game smoother while simultaneously improving the accuracy of the officiating on the field.
Let’s start with the highs, and the biggest win for this new system is the implementation. There has been very little that’s changed from an outside perspective in terms of needing to alter how the game looks to fans or how the players utilize space on the field.
The play has looked smooth and comparable to last season, but more eyes mean more opportunities to make the correct calls in real-time. At the end of the experiment, we can look at how many calls went to video review and were overturned. Coaches can also give input regarding whether having that extra official led to fewer challenges and, as a result, fewer trips to the review screen slowing down the game. Pace of play is important in a league where speed and excitement go hand in hand, and if there is proof that an extra referee will lead to a better product on the field, there is an argument that they should add them permanently.
As with anything in sport, there are two schools of thought and there are some very real reasons why it may remain an experiment. For starters, on such a small field, the ball is very likely to strike an official at some point during a match, and adding another referee only increases that chance. To contest those fears, the league has implemented new rules about official interference for this season. MASL Head of Officials Ryan Cigich explains this rule change in great detail during the second episode of the MASL’s series Under Review, available on Twitch.
In addition, having three officials can cause issues with consistency. One referee may have a different interpretation of the rules than their partner, and adding a third on-field opinion can create conflict, an issue that should be avoided at all costs. The league has shown that not to be an issue as the crews coordinate and collaborate well, but many will point to games “getting out of hand” as proof that the system doesn’t work. While I hesitate to fully dismiss that idea, it is important to remember that there were matches like that before the experiment, and there will be after. There is only so much that officials can do, but at this point, it appears that this change has and will continue to do a lot of good toward creating a more exciting and correctly-called game for everyone involved. It just remains to be seen if the league agrees.