Around The League With Joseph Reina // Week 13

**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.**



Over a month of the regular season is left, but somebody must have forgotten to tell Monterrey and San Diego. The two conference leaders clinched spots in the Ron Newman Cup Playoffs this weekend with emphatic wins over Tacoma and Texas, respectively. This season has been remarkable up to this point for both sides, but as they learned last year, regular season success feels like a consolation prize if the season doesn’t end with a different trophy.

Monterrey has been dominant this season, winning every game they’ve played, so qualification feels more like a mile-marker on a long cross-country trip. It’s a formality at this point for the team that looks destined for silverware at the end of the year. We’ll talk more about the Flash as they achieve other feats in the coming weeks, but today, we’ll focus on San Diego.

In Southern California, Phil Salvagio and his team are still the team to beat, despite a pair of losses to Chihuahua. They have the second-best goal differential in the league, winning their games by over two goals on average. This week, the Outlaws and Strykers pushed them in each of their three contests, before the Sockers eventually emerged victorious, but each win showed a slightly different side of San Diego.



— MASL (@MASLarena) February 14, 2024

Against Texas on Tuesday, Salvagio’s side didn’t hold a lead until Felipe Gonzalez’s winner with 1:29 left in the fourth quarter. The Sockers struggled throughout but found a way to get the result on a night when it looked like they wouldn’t. On Thursday, another close game became anything but, when San Diego found the net four times during the final 15 minutes, crushing any hopes the Outlaws had of ending their brutal losing streak.

At Toyota Arena, Empire took the Sockers to a shootout despite the visitors holding a 5-1 lead at one point in the first quarter. Marco Fabián kickstarted the comeback with a pair of goals, and from that point on, the Strykers outscored their rivals 6-3 to earn a point at least, as the game went into extras. A tense and cage overtime period preceded the shootout where San Diego emerged victorious 1-0, thanks to captain Kraig Chiles’ decisive goal and Boris Pardo’s heroics in net, as he denied all three Strykers attempts.


He makes 3 saves, Kraig Chiles scores the only goal and the @SanDiegoSockers take the shootout 1-0 to go home 9-8 winners

— MASL (@MASLarena) February 19, 2024

As the playoffs approach, there is a lot of discussion regarding which team is the favorite between San Diego and Chihuahua. If the Sockers can avoid dropping eight points until the end of the season, they will be the Eastern Conference Champions, while the Savage could at best finish as runners-up. While that would be a familiar sight after last season’s Ron Newman Cup Playoffs, the Sockers will be extra motivated to avenge what is now three straight losses to their Mexican rivals.

Their current injury list is indeed longer than they would like it to be, but the playoffs are a long way away, hopefully allowing them to rest up and be ready by then. They boast six players with 1.9 or more points per game on offense, four players with at least 17 blocks, and one of the league’s best goalkeeping pairs. They’re stacked across the turf and it’s hard to justify betting against them. The best teams find a way to win, even when they’re not at their best.

For San Diego, they’ve been gut-punched a few times now and had their credentials checked, but they’re always there. No matter what, they’re still fighting, and still winning. Don’t expect them to let off the gas during their last eight games, especially for Chihuahua’s second trip to Pechanga Arena on March 3rd. Before that, however, they’ll host Kansas City on Sunday, Feb. 25, at 8:05 p.m. EST for a game with major playoff implications for their opponents.


One of the great things about indoor soccer is the unpredictability. We saw Baltimore struggle at the beginning of the season, but in their last four games, the Blast has won three times, including huge results against Kansas City and most recently Utica. They’ve scored 36 goals during those four games as several players embrace the spotlight, taking their side to new heights.

New signing Ricardo Diegues bagged five goals against Utica, including three during the third quarter, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Mike Zierhoffer’s historic night. The Blast goalkeeper scored three times, taking advantage of Utica’s sixth-attacker with three perfectly placed throws. It’s hard to overshadow a five-goal performance, but a goalkeeper hat trick might take the cake.

Miss the first ever Goalkeeper hat trick in MASL history last night?

Relive all three of Mike Zierhoffer's goals for the @BaltimoreBlast last night in a 13-6 win over Utica City

— MASL (@MASLarena) February 18, 2024

The Blast had lost all three previous meetings between the two sides this season, scoring just 13 goals and conceding 23. Only Nilton de Andrade and Franck Tayou tallied more than one point on the night for Utica, while six Baltimore players achieved the feat. It’s a massive boost for the Blast as they chase the Comets for the final playoff spot, and this confidence could not come at a better time.

Kansas City has played four more games than Baltimore but crucially, only holds a seven-point lead, so if the Blast can keep winning, they could control their destiny come the end of the season. The Comets have just six games left, including two against the Sockers, so Baltimore’s win against Utica could be huge. Up next, is a trip to Harrisburg this weekend on Saturday, Feb. 24, at 7:05 p.m. EST. The Blast have not beaten the Heat in Pennsylvania since 2022, so getting three points will be anything but easy.

Two days before Baltimore’s triumph, Dallas turned head with a win against Tacoma, who had just come off a pair of huge wins in Kansas City and St. Louis. Like their win earlier this season against Texas, Dallas found a way to control the game, even leading by as many as three goals at one point.

Jamie Lovegrove stole the show with two goals and a pair of assists, including Blas Pérez’s game-winning goal in overtime. His floating pass over the top allowed the Panamanian to poke it past Luis Birrueta and into Tacoma’s goal.


The Panamanian Bomber pokes it home and the @gosidekicks take this one 8-7!

— MASL (@MASLarena) February 16, 2024

Dallas is likely out of the playoff race at this point, but for head coach Ed Puskarich, this win is a good indication that his rebuild is working. He’s been changing the culture for his team, putting them in positions to succeed and build off one another. Wins aren’t the most important thing to the Sidekicks right now, but they go a long way toward solidifying this culture shift. They’re a fun team to watch, full of exciting players, especially the aforementioned Lovegrove and Pérez.

The former has enjoyed a great career in the Lone Star State and has kept it up as he’s gotten older, averaging 1.4 points per game this season. Pérez has set the scoring charts alight too, with an astounding 44.1% of his shots finding the back of the net. In just his sophomore MASL season, the former FC Dallas striker is proving he belongs by helping his side find success as they continue on this path that Ed Puskarich has forged. The Sidekicks are back in action this weekend as they travel down to Corner Sport Arena to take on the Chihuahua Savage. Kickoff will be at 9:00 p.m. EST on Friday, Feb. 23.