MASL Preview // Central Division
The four Central Division clubs are hoping to add another indoor championship trophy to their respective trophy cases.
Those teams have enjoyed varying degrees of indoor soccer success over the years.
The Milwaukee Wave boasts a storied history. The winners of six indoor championships in the National Professional Soccer League and Major Indoor Soccer League, the Wave most recently secured the 2018-19 Major Arena Soccer League title.
The Kansas Comets captured the 2013-14 MISL crown.
The Dallas Sidekicks won the 1993 Continental Indoor Soccer League championship, the 1998 Premier Soccer Alliance title, and the 2001 World Indoor Soccer League final.
The original St. Louis Ambush captured the 1994-95 NPSL title. After failing to reach the postseason in its first seven years of existence, the reconstituted Ambush qualified for the MASL playoffs earlier this year and is seeking its first MASL championship.
Some 238 miles apart in the state of Missouri, Kansas City and St. Louis have an enduring rivalry over the years. They will kick off the MASL season with a home-and-home series over Thanksgiving weekend. The Ambush hosts Kansas City on Friday, Nov. 26 before the Comets welcome St. Louis on Saturday, Nov. 27.
The challenge facing Head Coach Giuliano Oliviero is trying to piece together a team that hasn't played together since the pandemic shut down the league in March 2020. Oliviero, who masterminded the Wave's 2018-19 championship season, has brought back several familiar faces in the team's quest for more MASL glory. Milwaukee finished the 2019-20 season in second place to Florida in the East with a 14-6 mark.
No. 1 on the list is league MVP the ageless Ian Bennett, a 38-year-old striker proved he could be a force on any team. While starring for Florida, Bennett finished the season atop the charts in goals (19) and points (27), while adding eight assists.
Other returnees include defenders Stuart Grable and midfielders Luan Oliveira, the 2012-13 rookie of the year (19 goals, 9 assists in 2019-20), and Mario Alvarez and forward Andre Hayne.
Indoor legend and defender Marcio Leite, 37, who helped the San Diego Sockers to the MASL title last season after playing a key role in Milwaukee’s run to the 2018-19 Ron Newman Cup, returned to the team as a player-assistant coach.
Additions are goalkeeper Matt Perrella, who played his last three MASL seasons with the Syracuse Silver Knights, Harrisburg, and Utica, has signed on, along with indoor veteran Gordy Gurson, who played last year with the champion San Diego Sockers, and defender Derek Huffman.
The team also added Douglas Dos Santos, a six-year MASL veteran who played with St. Louis in 2019-20, and Tyler Turner.
The Wave begin their season at the Baltimore on Saturday, Dec. 11 before hosting the same side in its home opener on Dec. 18.
Memo to Kansas City's Western Division opponents and foes in general:
The Comets have their top eight scorers returning from last season, which includes forwards, midfielders and defenders.
That starts with player-head coach Leo Gibson (8 goals, 12 assists), a MASL second-team selection, and continues with MASL rookie of the year and midfielder Lucas Sousa (9 goals, 8 assists) and is fortified by forwards Adam James (11 goals, 5 assists) and Rian Marques (12 goals, 3 assists).
KC (7-5 last season), which took third place in the regular season, hopes to go further in the playoffs before they were eliminated by the Ontario Fury in the semifinals via a mini-game.
Last year the Comets' supporting cast was quite dependable as well, thanks to a pair of defenders who were MASL second-team picks - John Sosa (3 goals, 11 assists) and Ray Lee (9 goals, 4 assists), and front-line players Mike Da Silva (7 goals, 4 assists) and Ramone Palmer (4 goals, 7 assists).
Nicolau Neto (5-5, 5.74 GAA), who earned All-MASL honorable mention honors last season, and Lou Misner (2-0, 4.00 GAA) will backstop the team.
The Comets prepared for the season by capturing and defending the Central Cup last week, defeating the Wichita Wings, 14-2, and the Omaha Kings, 9-2. Kansas City used a mixture of veterans, rookies and trialists as first-year players Ali Sodal and Lesia Thetsane performed.
The Comets open the season in a home-and-home series with the St. Louis Ambush on Thanksgiving weekend. KC visits its Show Me State foes on Friday, Nov. 26 before turning around to host St. Louis on Saturday, Nov. 27.
St. Louis Ambush
Taking over the head coaching reins from Hewerton Moriera on May 19, one of Greg Muhr's charges has been to fortify a defense that allowed a league-high 89 goals last season. It should be noted that the Ambush played more games (15) than anyone but surrendering almost six goals a game isn't the recipe to reach the postseason. St. Louis (8-7) did in 2021 but was ousted by the archrival Comets in the quarterfinals, 7-4 and 6-2.
As it turned out two of the Ambush's top returning goal-scorers are defenders - Vadim Cojocov (9 goals, 4 assists) and Stefan Mijatovic (8 goals, 3 assists), who was named to the MASL third team and led the league with 21 blocked shots.
Forwards Tony Walls (9 goals, 3 assists), JT Thomas (8 goals, 2 assists) and Howard Miller (4 goals, 3 assists), an MASL honorable mention selection, and midfielder Lucas Almeida (3 goals, 9 assists) round out the side's offensive threats.
Midfielder William Eskay (4 goals in 5 games) gives the team depth.
Chris "Tito" Favela and Josue Mazon are set to start the season in goal after keeper Paulo Nascimento (7-4, 5.24 GAA), an all-league honorable mention selection, suffered a potential season-ending injury and was placed on the inactive list.
Defender Richard Schmermund, who played the first four years of his MASL career with the Ambush before performing with two other teams, has returned to his home team. In 125 games, Schmermund has registered 48 goals, 24 assists and 109 blocked shots.
St. Louis also added former Baltimore Blast midfielder Mohammed Ndiaye (8 goals, 8 assists in 2019-20) and former Harrisburg Heat forward Robbie Kristo (5 goals, 5 assists in 2019-20) and midfielder Marcel Berry (5 goals, 5 assists in 2019-20) and forward Robbie Kristo, a three-time All-American at St. Louis University.
The Ambush won both its games at the recent Central Cup, stopping the Omaha Kings, 9-2, and Wichita Wings, 8-6. The team, however, lost out to Kansas City, winners of both its contests, via the second tie-breaker of goals against. KC allowed four, St. Louis eight.
During Thanksgiving weekend, St. Louis, quite fittingly, kicks off its season in a home-and-home series with the Kansas City Comets. The Ambush welcomes KC on Friday, Nov. 26 before visiting the Comets on Saturday, Nov. 27.
The Sidekicks have nowhere to go but up. They finished in the basement among the seven competing teams last year with a 1-10 record, conceded a league-worst 8.00 goals a game and had a league-worst minus goal differential. So, that is something they want to remedy this season.
New head coach Pablo Da Silva, most recently the U.S. Men's Futsal National Team assistant coach, will have his work cut out for him to turn the Sidekicks' fortunes around.
He needs to build a solid defense around goalkeeper Juan Gamboa (6.67 GAA) or newly signed Estevan Vazquez, who last played for the Mesquite Outlaws in 2019-20. Brazilian defender Felipe Dos Santos Silva signed with the club and is expected to help solidify the backline. Four of the seven fulltime defenders are back - David Ortiz, who represented the USA at the 2021 FIFA Futsal World Cup in September, Mike Jones, Brian Rodriguez and Kristian Quintana.
Da Silva also needs to build the attack around Felipe De Sousa, who enjoyed a marvelous 2021 season in which he averaged 2.0 points a game, good for fourth in the league. De Sousa also ripped the nets for 17th goals, second in the MASL and was seventh with 18th points. When De Sousa was hot, he was hot, recording four hat-trick and a pair of braces. He also wasn't afraid to get physical when push came to shove, leading the way with 14 penalty minutes.
After De Sousa's 17 goals, midfielder-defender Julio Varela and Freddy Moojen, who is not returning, were the closest teammates with six apiece.
On Monday, the Sidekicks announced the addition of eight players.
In the back the newcomers included goalkeeper Chase Coy, a one-time standout at McKinney Boyd High School in the Dallas area, defenders Jonathan Cisneros, a local product who has played professionally in Spain and Honduras, Christian Vazquez, who joins his brother, goalkeeper Estevan Vazquez, on the squad, and Stephen Gonzales, a Dallas native who played at Grand Canyon University.
On the attacking end, Dallas added three midfielders - local products Erik Macias and Sebastian Mendez and Senegal native Nago Mbengue, who has played for Indy Eleven and Dayton Dutch Lions in the USL - and Cameroonian native and forward Axel Chakounte.
The Sidekicks' first two games are at home, meeting the St. Louis Ambush on Dec. 4 and then the Kansas City Comets on Dec. 11.