Christmas came a little early for the Tacoma Stars and their fans during their recent homestand. With well more than half the season still to be played, there was an odd feeling in the air at the Accesso ShoWare Center on Sunday, Dec. 17. After suffering a blistering 10-4 defeat the previous night to Soles de Sonora, the Tacoma Stars had now dropped four matches in a row.
The idea of a fifth defeat, which would drop them further back in the standings, helped lend to the feelings that Sunday’s match was a must win. Another loss would drop the Stars three games behind the Ontario Fury in the Major Arena Soccer League’s Pacific Division standings. While there are still 13 games to be played in the regular season, the wriggle room for error has become razor thin for Tacoma, with only the top-two teams advancing to the playoffs.
Sure, Tacoma still has a full four matches left to play against Ontario, but a three-game deficit against the rival Fury would turn each game into what amounts to a playoff match. Instead, the Stars (3-6) trail the Fury (4-4) by just two games in the loss column. With two games remaining against the undefeated San Diego Sockers (7-0), as well as matches against undefeated Monterrey (8-0) and Soles de Sonora on the road, it’s safe to say that the Ontario matches are definitely going to have a playoff intensity.
Stars fans will not have to wait long to get fired up about a battle with the Fury. Tacoma will host Ontario on Friday, Jan. 5, at 7:35 p.m. at the ShoWare. Since Tacoma returned to major professional soccer, their contests with Ontario have proven to be some of the bigger nail-biters, both home and away. Before we even get into the last Soles de Sonora game, it may behoove you to snatch up a couple of tickets to the upcoming Fury match. You’re going to want to be there.
On Saturday, Dec. 16, the Stars put in three solid quarters of play against Sonora. It was 0-0 after the first stanza and just 2-0 Sonora at the half. Tacoma would get on the board with goals by Vince McCluskey and Chase Hanson in the third quarter, only to have Sonora add two of their own to take a 4-2 lead into the final frame. Despite another goal for Hanson, and a fourth from former Stadium High School standout Jamael Cox, Sonora put their foot down on the gas pedal, launching six goals into the back of the net for a runaway 10-4 victory.
The second game of their quick series at the ShoWare was one of the more physical soccer matches ever seen under the roof in Kent. No less than 11 penalties were called in the contest, including a Sonora elbow to the eyebrow of Tacoma’s Duncan McCormick that would later draw a two-game suspension. The fur was flying and there was definitely some electricity in the air.
Tacoma would get on the scoreboard first off the foot of veteran defender Evan McNeley. The Puget Sound local rifled a shot into the back of the net just 2:06 into the first quarter to give Tacoma a 1-0 advantage. Sonora would bounce back less than two minutes later as Daniel Lopez evened up the score at 1-1.
The score would remain deadlocked at 1-1 until the early moments of the third quarter. Sonora’s Franck Tayou slapped a shot that ran into the goal box. Tacoma’s Steve Mohn got a foot on the ball, but it didn’t go the way he wanted it. The ball ricocheted toward the Stars’ goal, where a startled Danny Waltman was able to just get a couple fingers on the ball before it went into the back of the net. Sonora now led 2-1 just 39 seconds into the third stanza.
Tacoma would answer in a few heartbeats. Philips Lund put a blast off the side wall that was gathered up by Trevor Jensen, who spun on his heel, driving a low shot toward the inside post. Sonora’s Juan Gamboa was able to slow the ball down, but it ended up trickling past the goal line for a second Stars’ goal.
With 5:53 remaining in the third quarter, Lund struck again for his eighth goal of the season. The Dane was playing behind the Sonora line, and when Roberto Escalante misplayed an ill-advised pass back to Gamboa, Lund was right there to snag the ball at the yellow line. A couple dribbles later, Lund popped off a cannon shot that bent into the upper left corner of the goal to give Tacoma a 3-1 advantage.
Less than three minutes later, Tayou would strike again and the game was knotted at 3-3, where it would remain for the remainder of regulation play.
Things got very difficult for the Stars to open the overtime period. A bench foul was called just 17 seconds into the 10-minute, sudden death period, and Tacoma would have to play a man down for two minutes against one of the more dangerous teams in the MASL. The penalty killers buckled down and somehow turned away everything Sonora threw at them. Needless to say, the ShoWare crowd was on their feet and losing their minds.
Three minutes after killing the Sonora penalty, Tacoma’s Cory Keitz stole the ball and pressed up field. Keitz shot the ball out to Raphael Cox on his right, who then sent a blast toward the goal that missed just wide-right. Meanwhile, Keitz was charging down the middle, and played the ricochet perfectly off his foot into the back left of the net for the golden goal winner.
On Wednesday, Dec. 20, the Stars announced the signing of tall, veteran Nick Perera, as well as former Pacific Lutheran standout Eddie Na. Perera scored 17 goals and dished out 16 assists in 15 games last season with the Fury. Na is the two-time Northwest Conference Offensive Player of the Year.