**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.**
CITY’S FLYING START
We discussed Utica’s solid start to this season last week, but the train kept rolling into the holidays. On Christmas weekend, four wins became five as City took the top spot in the league standings with a somewhat confusing 5-2 win over Baltimore on Friday night.
The Sidekicks and Outlaws played on Festivus this weekend, so I’ll use another Seinfeld term to describe Utica. They were two-faced. Five goals in the first half and none in the second half. Good attacking chance creation for 30 minutes, and then just three shots in the third and fourth quarter combined. A weak night for the Blast meant Hewerton’s side got away with it, but this is the first sign of distress we’ve seen from Utica since their opener against the Heat on Dec. 2.
Last week, I mentioned that up to this point, Utica has only faced Baltimore and Harrisburg and that it would be much too quick to consider them genuine title contenders. Performances like this give that hint of skepticism credibility rather than shutting it down.
Look at Monterrey’s game against Dallas earlier this season. Despite having the win practically guaranteed after the first half, the Flash continued to push, scoring 22 goals on the Sidekicks. Scoring matters and goal differential could be a factor toward the end of the season. It’s these nights; at home, against a team struggling in both phases of play, with the game all but wrapped up at the half; where they have the chance to run up the score, and they failed to take it.
I feel like a broken record as I continue to highlight Ronaldinho Diniz and his stellar play, but he just continues to perform with a further two goals this weekend. In a team with so many big names, the 27-year-old is making sure his is the one on everyone’s lips. In addition to Diniz, I must give some much-deserved praise to goalkeeper Andrew Coughlin. Twelve saves may not seem like a lot, but he conceded just once on the night, and his only blip was a late blue card that gave Baltimore a shootout.
This defensive showing is something Utica fans will want to see more of in the future, but my point from last week remains: Can they do it away from the East Coast? We’ll have to wait until January to be sure. Until then, they’ll host Harrisburg on New Year’s Eve at 3:05 p.m. EST.
HAVE THE OUTLAWS TURNED A CORNER?
Texas is already a quarter of the way through its season and we’re just now getting a glimpse of the side we have come to expect. Three straight frustrating losses highlighted some unresolved issues and showed just how vulnerable they could be defensively. While these questions are not necessarily gone, they now have two wins against teams that had previously beaten them.
This is no small feat. The Outlaws immediately righted the ship with a road win against Kansas City last week and followed it up with a comprehensive thrashing of their rivals, the Dallas Sidekicks, at home. Kudos to Luiz Morales, who led his side with four goal contributions, three of which came in the first quarter. Five other Texas players registered at least two points to complete the rout. So after a performance like this, the question naturally becomes, what are the Outlaws capable of this season?
They’re currently second in the Western Conference, only behind San Diego, but that ignores the fact that no team in the entire league has played as many games as Texas. They will most likely be fighting for the third and fourth spots in the playoffs, along with Tacoma and Empire, and it’s still way too early to tell how that will turn out.
After just three games, the Stars will not be disheartened by their haul of three points and a trio of relatively solid performances. It’s far from ideal, but given their opponents, it’s also relatively predictable. We’ll get a clearer picture of their capabilities after next week when they’ll take on the Strykers and Sockers. For Texas, it’s a home stand against the visiting Milwaukee Wave on Saturday, Dec. 30 at 8:05 p.m. EST. Stay tuned, because this is a playoff race that we’ll revisit quite often throughout the season.
CONSISTENCY IS KEY. RIGHT?
It’s hard to score. Putting the ball in the back of the net is widely understood to be the most difficult single achievement in the sport. Even more difficult than scoring once, is scoring consistently. Momentum is massive in the MASL, but even more powerful is a team that doesn’t need it.
While most teams have yet to crack the six-game mark, there is still fascinating data to discover when looking into each team’s attacking consistency. So, to help explain my findings, I created my own data set based on each team’s scoring breakdown by quarter to figure out which teams score consistently.
The teams that initially jumped out to me were Utica and Kansas City. Both teams have been quite successful this season, with just one loss between them. We can see on the chart that they both spread their goals out relatively evenly across all four quarters, with the Comets the more standard of the two. Utica’s first-quarter-heavy tally was heavily influenced by this weekend’s contest against Baltimore, and I won’t harp on them any more than I already have, but the data shows that this was a significant abnormality.
Also worth pointing out is Monterrey, who sits just one point below Utica in the standings but has scored the most goals, so far, this season. The Flash relies on their ability to close games out well while starting slowly by comparison. For context, Monterrey has just 15 goals during their first halves this season while outscoring that total in both the third and fourth quarters (17 and 16, respectively). San Diego has a similar habit, with 60% of their goals coming during the second half.
Several struggling teams fall into this category as well. St. Louis, Dallas, and Milwaukee all have at least two losses and have scored 60% or more of their goals during the second half. So what does this tell us? Consistency does not directly correlate to winning. Some of the best teams score consistently and some don’t. Some of the worst teams score consistently and some don’t.
This statistic serves as a way of comparing a team to itself on a game-by-game basis. Utica is a perfect example. They typically distribute their goals evenly so games when they don’t, show that maybe, something was off, but based on this graph, Monterrey should not suddenly try to score more goals in the first half while sacrificing later performance. They have their style of play and it’s clearly working for them. As long as they keep scoring, they should be fine.