Around The League With Joseph Reina // Week 17

**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.**



The Stars surprised everyone when they beat the visiting Chihuahua Savage not once, but twice this weekend. Though their second victory required a shootout, it’s still five massive points in the race for second in the Western Conference.

            Tacoma hasn’t had the easiest schedule this season, with San Diego, Monterrey, and Chihuahua making up over 40% of their games. But in the face of this, they’re still in the hunt for second place behind the Sockers, who successfully clinched the division against Empire.

            Going into the weekend, the Stars knew that if there was to be a serious shake-up in the standings, they would need to win both games this weekend. Pressure comes in many different forms, but Tacoma seems content to face them all.

            On Friday, the Stars overturned a three-goal deficit with four unanswered fourth-quarter goals, including Alessandro Canale’s spectacular winner with 59 seconds left. The next day, two goals in the final minute of regulation brought the hosts level, before Justin Stinson slotted home the decisive goal in the resulting shootout.

Frankly, I wouldn’t believe it had I not seen it. It’s not just the results that are shocking, but how they happened. Having seen the resilience these two comebacks took to pull off, there is little doubt in my mind that something special is happening in Tacoma.

With the additions of defender Stefan Mijatovic and midfielder Justin Stinson, both on loan from the Empire Strykers, the Stars have turned a corner. Mijatovic has 10 points in six games while Stinson has added a further 11 in just four starts.

 In addition to their newcomers, veterans Jamael Cox and Canale have added nine and 10 points respectively since March 1. They’ve stepped into the spotlight normally filled by Nick Perera, who hasn't featured for his side since Feb. 9 against the Comets. Whether we’ll see him back at all this season remains to be seen, but if this team could add Perera into the mix and his three points per game, Tacoma might just become serious title contenders.

I’ve liked the Stars this season, but they’ve given me more than a few reasons to doubt. Up until the beginning of March, Tacoma was conceding 6.86 goals per game or slightly more than average. This was due in large part to their habit of giving up abnormally dangerous shots, which can be seen when we look at this graph from the middle of February.

They still haven’t fixed that issue, given that their last six opponents have still put 78.2% of their shots on frame, but it looks like they’ve found a workaround.

Tacoma’s shots against have dropped dramatically, from an average of 26.2 per game before March, to just 17.33 since then. With that improvement, their goals against have also dropped to just four per game, on par with the Flash and Savage.

On offense, the Stars are also scoring more, though their attacking metrics are significantly less impressive than their defensive improvements. They’re scoring 0.81 more goals per game, but taking 35 shots per game, up from 25. Based on these figures, their accuracy in front of goal seems to have regressed towards the mean, after their early season heroics.

They’re now earning roughly .236 goals per shot, indicating a slightly above-average ability to convert shots into goals. Combine that with a few clutch moments like Cox’s brilliant equalizer on Saturday, and you have a hungry, and crucially, able side with nothing to lose. They’re just four points off Chihuahua with a game in hand, and while catching them will require some luck, there’s no question that the Stars will bring it when the two sides face off in the first round of the Ron Newman Cup playoffs.

Until then, Tacoma will face Empire on Saturday, Mar. 23, at 10:05 p.m. EDT, before wrapping up their season next weekend against the Sockers and Strykers again.


In a similar vein, the Comets have righted the ship at the perfect time, as they became the eighth and final team to clinch a spot in the Ron Newman Cup playoffs. Against an extremely plucky and frustrating St. Louis side, Kansas City ran riot. They left nothing to chance and even less up for debate during their fifth straight win.

Stefan Stokic’s side was clinical and composed as they picked apart the Ambush to close out the I-70 rivalry series with their fifth win. Their eight-game losing streak feels like a distant nightmare, with their two dominant wins this weekend feeling extremely similar to the Comets we saw in December.

When looking at the data, Kansas City’s opponents have struggled to find the net since Feb. 10, but what’s interesting is that it almost perfectly mirrors their early season form. In their first eight games, the Comets allowed 0.144 goals per shot, and in their last seven, they’re conceding just 0.142. During their losing streak, that figure ballooned to 0.238, or just above the league average.

A big part of that defensive prowess is KC’s goalkeeping duo. Nicolau Neto and Phillip Ejimadu have been superb this season, even during their losing streak. The pair have comparable save percentages individually, but as a combined asset, it becomes clear just how special the goalkeeping room is in western Missouri.

Since Feb. 10, the two have combined for an average save percentage of 0.778; over ten percent higher than the league average. This elite defensive performance has ensured that they outlasted the Baltimore Blast and qualified for the postseason.

While their seeding is still up in the air due to the Wave and Utica having one and two games in hand, it does look as though they’ll slot into that fourth spot, where their reward will be a trip down to Monterrey. Some reward, that.

With MVP candidate Zach Reget continuing to bang in the goals, the Comets have every chance of being competitive against the MASL Shield winners. This run of form has included comprehensive wins over Utica and San Diego, and they’ve scored 30 goals in their last three games.

Those numbers are not to be scoffed at. Consistency at this point in the season is vital and fortunately for Kansas City, they have it in spades. The Comets' final regular season opponent will be the Sockers, who they’ve already beaten in San Diego. Kickoff will be Saturday, Mar. 23 at 7:05 p.m. EDT from the Cable Dahmer Arena.


            I’m gonna take a minute to diverge from my normal program and speak from the heart a bit about this week’s game between San Diego and Empire that aired on CBS Sports Golazo Network. But rather than starting with the intros, or even kickoff, I’m gonna go a bit further back.

For anyone who isn’t aware, I’m relatively young. I’ll spare you my exact age, but I grew up going to Milwaukee Wave games in the early 2000s, long before I could remember making the decision to go. I’d watch the games with unbridled exhilaration, together with my father, as he taught me to love and cherish the shared experience of our beautiful game.

            As I’ve gotten older, my passion for the sport only grew, and as I did more research, I began to learn that the sport had once been immensely popular, with fans filling into arenas to see what was, at the time, the among highest levels of soccer being played in this country.

            I saw that games used to be televised and broadcast on ESPN and FOX Soccer, all these big channels for the general public to watch. Personally, I love online streaming and the route the league has gone in recent years to make the games more easily accessible to everyone, but I’ll admit, there’s always been a part of me that wished I could have seen those glory days with my own eyes.

            Cut to Sunday evening, as I turned on the Golazo Network to see our beautiful game being broadcast around the world. The Strykers production team was amazing as always, but I’d like to give special credit to Christian Filimon and Jonathan Reimer, who did a fantastic job of teaching the new crowd the ins and outs of indoor soccer in a digestible and interesting way.

            Between the incredible contest that featured a Marco Fabián hat trick and more than a few ridiculous goals, I found myself smiling, with seemingly no reason. I was sitting at the TV, watching an indoor soccer game with my dad, as he offered his analysis, just as he’s done for over twenty years. But this time, it was different. Like a young player’s first call-up to the senior team. All the work that’s gotten the league to where it is, was put on display for everyone to see and, it bagged a winner on debut.

            Congratulations to everyone who made this possible, from the league office to every fan who has supported their local team, their adopted team, or the league in general, because you are also responsible. From that little kid, watching his favorite sport, thank you. This was a moment he will not soon forget.