Around The League With Joseph Reina / Week 8

**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.**



There really is only one place to start. While watching Chihuahua dismantle the Sockers at Pechanga Arena, I felt like I was watching the slow build-up that precedes a no-hitter in baseball. As the Savage methodically picked apart the home side, the result mattered less and less. The Sockers couldn’t be shut out at home, could they?!

Ultimately, Tavoy Morgan got their consolation goal late in the fourth quarter, ending goalkeeper Diego Reynoso’s bid for an iconic debut clean sheet. But as the final whistle blew and the teams shook hands, the gravity of the situation began to sink in. San Diego, the Lords of Indoor, had been torn asunder on their own turf, ending a 25-game regular season home winning streak.

Their opponents were a strange combination of familiar and fresh, as the Savage had added a few new faces before the game. After four consecutive losses to Monterrey, Chihuahua made a change on the bench, bringing in Genoni Martinez as Head Coach. In goal, Reynoso made his return to the league nine months after his last appearance for Monterrey. He was not the only debutante as Cleberson Rodrigues, whose background is futsal, also appeared in his first MASL game. The night could hardly have gone better for the two new additions, as Reynoso made 16 saves while Cleber bagged a goal and an assist. 

While the majority of the team is the same, this is not the same Savage side that lost four straight to Monterrey. They were dangerous in attack, but rather than flying forward and playing the numbers game, they were patient. They held the ball, dictated the tempo, and made the Sockers work. It was intense. It was surgical. It was, without hyperbole, the most impressive performance I’ve seen all season. 

So, while I still believe that the Sockers are a lock to win the division, Chihuahua’s goal for the season has shifted dramatically. The playoffs are no longer enough. The Western Conference Final is not enough. This Savage team needs to repeat as Champions. It’s that simple. This weekend will be two more great tests at home against Kansas City and then on the road against Monterrey, but if they can weather the storm, there is no reason they can’t win it all. Kickoff against the Comets will be Friday, Jan. 19, at 9:00 p.m. EST from Corner Sport Arena. 


I must confess, I was absolutely among those who thought Utica didn’t stand a chance against Kansas City. I’d seen them lose to both the Wave and Stars, and I felt that against the Comets, it would all come undone once again. Having now seen them with Andrew Coughlin back in goal, I feel that many of my findings from last week are accurate, but that key change between the pipes made all the difference. 


— Utica City FC (@UticaCityFC) January 13, 2024

 None of Utica’s players registered more than two points against Kansas City, but Coughlin’s 21 saves proved crucial in their overtime win. They played the same style they have, with rapid counterattacks and high, intense pressing, but their keeper managed to keep them in the game. Against St. Louis, he earned the first star after conceding just three goals while making 17 saves. His performance was already worthy of praise, but after last week’s poor results, Coughlin’s impact cannot be overstated. 

Going into this four-game stretch on the road, Utica was hoping to prove that they were serious and with this weekend’s performances, I think they did. Last week feels like water under the bridge, as Hewerton’s side continues to build momentum going forward. As of now, Utica, Milwaukee, and Kansas City are all vying for second place in the East behind Monterrey. That could change, however, if Utica finds a way to keep winning. Prove that those losses to the Wave and the Stars were flukes, and they have every chance of doing just that.


His second of the game wins it for @UticaCityFC, 7-6 in overtime

— MASL (@MASLarena) January 13, 2024

Their upcoming schedule is more favorable, with six of their next eight games at home, including visits from the Outlaws, the Comets, the Wave, and the Flash. While those games are far from easy, they’ve proven they can be dangerous, especially at home. The Adirondack Bank Center is a hostile environment and facing those sides on your turf is a massive help. 

In addition, St. Louis, Baltimore, and Harrisburg make up eight of their remaining 14 games. Wins against those three teams would most likely put Utica in the conversation for second in the Eastern Conference, but this team is good enough to do it against the big boys too. 

Tune in this weekend to see the Utica Riggies (yes, you read that correctly) take on the Outlaws on Sunday, Jan. 21, at 3:05 p.m. EST. This will be a one-game re-brand for the team as an homage to their famous local cuisine, chicken riggies. How can you not be romantic about indoor soccer?


Last week, we discussed the playoff race in the East, but after this weekend, I’m afraid to say, it looks like the race is over in the West. This weekend, the odds were stacked in Empire’s favor tremendously, and yet, Tacoma left with another three points from the Toyota Arena in Ontario. 

The Stars were coming off a brutal loss to the Sockers the night before and faced travel issues on the day of their game in Ontario, but despite those hindrances, along with the absence of Alessandro Canale, who was on international duty with the U.S. Beach Soccer National Team, Tacoma found a way to beat the Strykers on the road for the second time this season. Shoutout to the ever-brilliant Nick Perera and Jamael Cox, who both finished the night with three points.

For their opponents, this result is pretty damning. With nine games under their belt, just two wins is an awfully pitiful haul. They now sit three points behind Chihuahua and six behind Tacoma, despite playing more games than both teams. The Savage will likely soon be in the realm of San Diego point-wise, which leaves Tacoma and Empire fighting it out for the fourth and final spot in the playoffs. 

From here on out, Empire has one of the toughest schedules in the league, with five games against San Diego, three against Tacoma, two games against the Comets and Savage, and one-off games against Monterrey, St. Louis, and Baltimore. For context, of their 15 remaining games, only three are against sides with a losing record, and two of those are the Savage. Taking that into account, it feels wishful to believe Empire could reach 20 points this season. 

By comparison, the Stars will play eight games combined against Empire, St. Louis, Dallas, and Harrisburg, all of whom have losing records. If Tacoma picks up just three wins from those games, they’ll have earned 21 points. Add in the fact that Tacoma has beaten every team not from San Diego this season, and it’s fair to assume they will win the majority, if not all of those games, effectively ending Empire’s playoff hopes. 

It’s been fascinating to watch the Strykers build a team seemingly from scratch this year, but while they have more than enough talent to compete, there’s another step they need to take as a team to actually win soccer games. Marco Fabián hit the ground running with seven goals and eight assists in six games, but the team’s play has been too inconsistent to achieve what they would like. 

We’ve seen Chihuahua turn everything around in a game, and with Empire’s new signings including Miguel Ponce, they could turn a corner and upset some teams, but admittedly they are very much on the outside looking in. Next up, is a date with the Sockers at Toyota Arena on Wednesday, Jan. 17, at 10:05 p.m. EST. 


There is something to be said, in the long run, about a team that’s been bested. A side that’s lost nailbiters and blowouts alike, despite undoubtedly possessing real, tangible talent. In the immediate, there’s no way around it. This weekend was a nightmare for the Comets. Three games, three losses, two of which were by a single goal. Stefan Stokic will certainly want those back. 

With their three losses, the Comets have dropped down to third in the Eastern Conference, one point behind Utica and one point ahead of Milwaukee. As the campaign rolls on, these nine dropped points will be huge, but for the Comets, the good news is that this part of their season is almost behind them. 

Chihuahua awaits on Friday night at Corner Sport Arena and after their performance in San Diego, it's hard to see Kansas City get any points from this game. These losses have shaken the confidence of many who saw the Comets at the beginning of the season and believed them to be the real deal. While it is understandable to feel that way given the results, their performances show a slightly different story. 

At Cable Dahmer Arena on Friday, the Comets lost to Utica 7-6 in overtime after leading 4-1 at the half. Against Monterrey on Tuesday, it was a similar fate. Stokic’s side led 5-2 at half but the Flash drew themselves level again less than ten minutes into the third quarter. Zach Reget scored to give the Comets the lead in the final seven minutes, before another complete defensive capitulation handed Monterrey their tenth win of the season, 8-7. 

Up to this point in the season, this hasn’t been a noticeable issue for the Comets. They conceded more goals in the second half, but only barely. This weekend made it unmissable. Perhaps from their opponents’ propensity for late scoring, the sudden rise could also be a result of Kansas City’s schedule, as they played three games in five days. That fatigue would also explain the Comet’s average goals against rising from 4.38 in their first eight games to 9.00 in their last three. Whatever the reason, it has to stop. 

Chad Vandegriffe and Robert Palmer were brought in this season as solutions to this exact problem. They’ve been alright, but is alright good enough anymore for Kansas City? They’ve seen the best teams in the league and faced them well. They’ll be dangerous going forward until the end of the regular season and into the playoffs. Getting back up after losing is impressive in its own right. Give Chihuahua a game this week and then get a win against Utica at the Adirondack Bank Center and they’ll be in a great spot for the Ron Newman Cup Playoffs.