**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.**
UTICA WILL FINALLY BE TESTED
I’ll keep the recap here brief. Utica dominated. They scored in every quarter, and eight different players found the net on the night. This is nothing new. Head coach Hewerton Moreira’s side has looked stellar to start the season and has a perfect record to show for it. Their players are talented, and for the time being, they’ve played as a cohesive unit to achieve a goal, but now is the perfect time to address the massive elephants in the northeast.
All six of their wins have come against Baltimore and Harrisburg. Half of Utica’s season is against these two sides that, at the time of writing, have yet to put up any real fight. The closest any side has come has been Utica’s 7-5 opening win over the Heat, but even then, it was a relatively comfortable brushing aside.
But now, Hewerton’s side faces a tough task: Four consecutive games on the road against Milwaukee, Tacoma, Kansas City, and St. Louis. Based on what we’ve seen, it feels reasonable to assume that they’ll get a few points, with St. Louis being the most likely source, but these will no doubt be four extremely difficult tests. Utica has never won in Milwaukee, Tacoma has only lost to San Diego, and the Comets have been among the most impressive sides in the league thus far.
For Utica to seriously challenge in the Eastern Conference, January will be massive. Keep an eye on Franck Tayou, who bagged himself a hat trick against Harrisburg, as well as Ronaldinho Diniz, who, despite only registering a single point against the Heat, was heavily involved in the build-up to several other goals. With such a tough run of games, Tayou and Diniz will need their teammates to step up consistently so their opponents have no clear-cut answer as to where goals will come from.
CHRIS TOTH’S NEW RECORD
Sometimes, I believe the league’s fast-paced nature makes it easy to gloss over the big moments. Goals are a regular occurrence in the league, and saves are even more prevalent. We see numbers that are hard to comprehend, and instead of taking the time to grasp their severity, we move on. So, let’s not make that mistake today.
At 34 years old, Chris Toth has become the MASL All-Time Leader in saves with an astounding 1,940. With a tame effort from San Diego forward Kraig Chiles, who himself is on the verge of reaching 400 career MASL points, the record came and went as the game rolled on.
Toth has spent his ten seasons with San Diego, Empire, and now Tacoma, and has yet to finish a season with a save percentage lower than 0.713. He’s averaged over 202 saves per season and allowed just 4.88 goals per 60 minutes played. To put Toth’s career into context, let’s compare him to this season’s MASL goalkeepers using Goals Against Average and Save Percentage.
I removed goalkeepers who have played less than 100 minutes from the data, giving us 18 goalkeepers, including three Chris Toths. Just three goalkeepers from this season have a higher save percentage than Toth has in his entire career, and his best season from 2016-2017 would be just behind Christian Hernandez’s current campaign, who, it should be noted, has only played in three games. This standard is why Toth has earned his reputation as one of the sport’s best-ever goalkeepers.
On the surface, this season has been far from ideal for Toth, but it’s important to note that his Stars have already faced San Diego three times this season. In their other two games against Empire and Baltimore, he’s averaged 4.5 goals against, 16.5 saves, and a 0.786 save percentage, which is more in line with the rest of his career. With 19 games left to play and just three more games against the Sockers, there is little doubt that Toth’s stats will revert to the mean as he helps the Stars shoot for the playoffs.
With just four points from their first five games, few would argue that St. Louis isn’t where they’d like to be. A home-and-home series gave them two opportunities to upset their bitter rivals from Kansas City. Home and away, the Ambush tested the Comets, but on both occasions, they came up just short.
Despite the losses, sticking with Kansas City should be admired. They’ll be disappointed to not get at least a point from the weekend, but against the likes of Harrisburg, Baltimore, or even Milwaukee, performances like this will be rewarded with points. In the series, the Ambush scored in seven of the eight quarters, but it’s difficult to score four and five goals against the Comets and expect to win.
William Eskay was the driving force for the Ambush this weekend, registering two goals and two assists across both games. Aside from him, no St. Louis player accumulated more than a point in either game. For this team to be competitive, distributing the wealth is helpful, but they need to give Eskay some help. Robert Kristo has started the season well, but after him, the scoring drop-off is frustrating. They need to find a way to score more frequently and fast because January’s schedule is unforgiving.
St. Louis kicks off 2024 with a trip to Baltimore on Fri. Jan. 5 at 7:35 p.m. EST, before three straight home games against Milwaukee, Utica, and then the Blast. As the season continues, their chances of keeping pace with the likes of Milwaukee and Baltimore will depend not just on their ability to perform consistently at this level, but also on their ability to win the close games.
MILWAUKEE’S TEXAN VACATION
This week, I was fortunate enough to be a guest on the MASL Monday podcast with Alex Bastyovanszky and Phil Lavanco. On the show, we discussed the Wave’s performances in depth, and between us, we all agreed that one way or another, something was wrong in Milwaukee.
They have a real scoring problem, and against solid opposition, their defense is nowhere to be seen. Keeping Dallas and St. Louis to one goal is great, but you cannot concede nine goals to Kansas City and eight to Texas while expecting to win.
This weekend specifically, the Wave could only find the net once in the first half against the Sidekicks and failed to score in the second and fourth quarters against the Outlaws. We’ve looked at the data before, and this trend predates these games. Milwaukee is overwhelmingly a third-quarter team, with 16 of their 36 goals coming in that period. That's just over 44% and double their next-best scoring quarter.
As of now, the Wave is averaging six goals per game, and only Derek Huffman and Ricardo Carvalho are averaging a goal a game or better. Ian Bennett’s goal contributions have dropped off, though it speaks to his prowess that five goals in six games is undoubtedly among his tamest tallies to date. It’s not the standard that Bennett has set for himself, especially considering all five goals have come in just two of his six appearances. Milwaukee is a force when their captain is firing on all cylinders. It just remains to be seen if and when he’ll get back to his scoring ways.
This weekend, Bennett and the Wave will host Utica City FC and Harrisburg with their first game against Hewerton’s side. The Brazilian played in Milwaukee for several years before switching to coaching and will enjoy the opportunity to capitalize on his former side’s poor start. Kickoff will be Thursday, Jan. 4 at 7:35 p.m. EST.