**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.**
“He made a great play,” Ian Bennett said, “to be honest, coach won us this game tonight.”
Amidst the adulation following his side’s come-from-behind win, the Milwaukee Wave star spoke to the crowd and reflected on how it came to pass. His three fourth-quarter goals sparked, stoked, and settled the comeback that will live long in the hearts and minds of Wave fans. On that special night, celebrating their team’s 40th anniversary, when defeat seemed all but set, it was his coach who made the difference.
When Giuliano Oliviero gathered his team, with 4:05 left in the third quarter, their chances looked bleak. Harrisburg forward Dominic Francis had just taken Milwaukee by surprise, completing a hat trick of his own with a quick restart. Following a short review, the goal was given and his Wave trailed the Heat 4-1 late in the third quarter.
“Giuls was like, ‘We gotta get it done,’” Bennett said, recounting the words of his coach. And so, with almost 20 minutes left to play, down by three goals, out came William Banahene for the sixth-attacker, Breno Oliveira.
It was a bold move in its own right, allowing the Wave more freedom in the attacking end. They had struggled to create all game, especially after Marcio Leite left the game injured in the second quarter. But as the fourth quarter began, the Wave came back to life. A pair of quick goals from Bennett preceded Oliveira’s equalizer with just over 11 minutes to play.
Then came the first surprise. With the score level, Oliveiro kept his sixth attacker in. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right?! Soon after, Bennett gave the Wave their first lead of the night, and when play resumed, the sixth-attacker remained on the field. Despite leading, Giuliano continued to use his sixth attacker like a scorned checkers player, chasing his opponent into a corner with the game’s lone king.
He flipped the game on its head. The best defense was a good offense, as Breno and his teammates shared possession, ran out the clock, and smothered the Heat before Derek Huffman and Andre Hayne snuffed out Harrisburg’s chances of getting a result.
After the game, it quickly became apparent just how crucial that change was. The Wave had been outplayed by a Harrisburg team that could do some serious damage this season. Defensively, the Heat forced Milwaukee to take shots from bad angles and blocked 29 shots while goalkeeper Jorge Navarrete registered 17 saves on the night. Cap that off with the high-flying Francis who finished with four points, and this very easily could have been a deserved upset in favor of the visitors.
Credit where credit is due, but I’m sure Harrisburg coach and player Pat Healey would have preferred points. For the Wave, their unlikely three points put them squarely between Kansas City and Utica in the Eastern Conference. Picking up wins at this point in the season remains critical if they want to avoid the Flash in the first round of the playoffs.
Their next opponents will be the Ambush, who are fresh off a win over the Comets. As the Wave learned against the Heat, momentum is a hell of a drug, and St. Louis has won back-to-back games for the first time since March of last year. A third win against Tacoma on Saturday would put Oliviero and his side on high alert if they weren’t already.
KANSAS CITY CRISIS
I’ve spoken before about the ability to get punched in the mouth and get right back up. It’s a reassuring sign that teams don’t continue their battles longer than they must. Shaking off losses and regrouping is a big part of any sport, but especially indoor soccer. For the Comets, it’s felt like Groundhog Day.
One frustrating home defeat to Utica on Jan. 12 preceded two losses to Monterrey, a fourth to Chihuahua, and a road defeat to Utica again. While frustrating, all five losses were admittedly a bit understandable, but this weekend presented Stefan Stokic’s side with the unmistakable opportunity to right the ship against two sides below them in the standings.
A better second-half showing was not enough to stave off the Blast in Baltimore as the visitors left the TU Arena with a 5-7 loss. Two days later the Ambush sent the Comets back to Kansas City with an overtime loss after a monumental comeback in the third and fourth quarters. Just as the losing streak appeared to be over, Jeff Locker’s side scored four unanswered goals to come back from 5-2 down and win 6-5.
The good news for Comets fans is that six of the seven losses came on the road, and they finally return to Cable Dahmer Arena when the Tacoma Stars come to town. Led by MVP candidate Nick Perera, Tacoma’s only losses have come to San Diego and Monterrey this season, though they’ve only played three other teams so far. Kansas City will be a difficult test and a chance for both sides to keep themselves in their respective races for third place.
Both sides will be losing key players this month thanks to national team call-ups, with Kansas City’s Zach Reget joining the US Futsal Mens National Team from Feb. 5-15 while Chris Toth, Allesandro Canale, and Perera will be representing the US at the 2024 FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup from Feb. 15-25. Tacoma knows that wins are easier to come by with their trio on the field, so this weekend’s games will be key.
Reget’s absence will truly be felt. When comparing the league’s top 100 goalscorers, the Comets forward is in good company. He takes loads of shots and scores them at a rate comparable to most other league leaders. For the Comets who score an average of 6 goals per game, losing Reget’s 1.5 will hurt.
For the Comets, in particular, this stretch could define their season. It’s only going to get harder for them to keep up with Milwaukee if they don’t get back on track this weekend. Kickoff will be Friday, Feb. 9, at 8:05 p.m. EST.
OUTLAWS FACE AN UPHILL BATTLE FOR SECOND
Given their current form, it feels fair to have hoped for Texas to steal at least a point from their weekend home stint against San Diego and Chihuahua. Sitting second in the Western Conference, this was an opportunity to punch up and show their two main rivals that they mean business. Their close loss to the Sockers bred hope for their next game, but against the Savage, they fell flat.
The Outlaws averaged nearly eight goals per game going into this weekend but scored just six combined in their two matches. San Diego’s goalkeeper Xavier Snaer-Williams made 19 saves on 24 shots, and Diego Reynoso of Chihuahua finished with an 88.9 save percentage. These two outstanding goalkeeping performances stymied the Outlaws and their potent attack, rather shockingly.
It’s the first time Texas has lost successive games this season since Dec. 16, but they need to avoid the same trap door as the Comets. Up next is a trip to Chihuahua, two road games against San Diego, and a visit from Monterrey. This six-game stretch could determine their playoff seeding because, with just nine games left, every point matters as they fight to keep the Savage at bay.
It’s hard to believe that this Texas team started the season with three losses in its first four games. That upset loss to Dallas felt a lot less shocking than it does now because we’ve seen the incredible talent Tatu’s side possesses. When you compare Texas to the rest of the league, it's clear how impressive they are.
I have been collecting stats from every game this season, and I may have found an extremely generalized and introductory way to calculate offensive efficiency. By looking at each team’s average goals per game and comparing that with how many shots they take per game, we can figure out which teams are making the most of their shooting opportunities.
Texas is in the top right quadrant of the graph, meaning they are above average in both categories, but there is still some distance between them and Monterrey. The Outlaws boast the frankly insane attacking trident of Luiz Moralez, Vini Dantas, and Sebastian Mendez are all in the top five goalscorers and top eight for points in the league. Their rapid pace of play and spellbinding creativity generate loads of opportunities, which they are scoring at an alarming rate.
I should explain that while Chihuahua is firmly in the bottom half of the graph, they make up for it by taking the most shots in the league, by a lot. They take nearly nine more shots than the league average of 28.459, which drops by two if we exclude the Savage from the data. They overpower their opponents with shots and play the numbers game which has worked for the most part, but against Monterrey’s goalkeeping duo, they’ve hit roadbumps. They took the same amount of shots across their five contests, but Monterrey’s average save percentage during those games is a scarcely believable 81%.
San Diego is comparable to Monterrey and Utica in attack, but the real surprise is that Tacoma looks to be more dangerous than Texas when looking at goals per shot. This conversation could pick up as the regular season comes to a close, but the Stars and Outlaws might just be fighting it out for third in the West. Watch the Outlaws try to end their losing streak when they visit the Savage in Chihuahua on Saturday, Feb. 10, at 9:00 p.m. EST, live on Twitch.