The Tacoma Stars could not have dialed up a better scenario following a break for the holidays. Trailing the Ontario Fury by two games in the loss column, the Stars welcomed their rivals from the south to the Accesso ShoWare Center on Friday, Jan. 5, and the hometown boys proved to be rather inhospitable to their guests with an 11-6 whipping in front of a rowdy crowd of 2,432 in attendance.
With 12 games still remaining in the Major Arena Soccer League regular season, the Stars have yet to reach the true midpoint of the season. However, a bit of a slump at the beginning of the season has put the Stars in a position with very little wriggle room if they want to remain in the playoff conversation.
The top two finishers in each MASL division will advance to the playoffs. If the season were to end today, the Stars would once again find themselves on the outside looking in. Of course, the season isn’t ending today, and it’s clear that these new-look Stars are beginning to build up some all-important momentum. When playing a relatively short season of 22 matches, a little momentum could go a long way for Tacoma.
Barring a miracle, the race for the MASL Pacific Division playoffs is realistically a two-team race for second place in the division. Not only are the division-leading San Diego Sockers a constant thorn in the side of the Stars, they are putting it to the rest of the league this season. The Sockers are a perfect 9-0 on the year and are playing like legitimate contenders for the league crown.
So now it comes down to the Stars and the Fury. The teams aren’t exactly crazy about each other, and every time they meet, something crazy seems to happen.
The recent match against the Fury was no exception. For the second straight match, a Tacoma Star was sent to the locker rooms after suffering an elbow to the face. On Sunday, Dec. 17, Duncan McCormick caught an elbow above his right eye that was a bloody mess. The offender found himself with a two-game suspension.
This time around, it was Tacoma’s Derek Johnson who ended up on the wrong end of an opponent’s elbow. While rushing in to make a play on the ball, Johnson was smacked in the nose by Maicon De Abreu’s elbow. The former Pacific Lutheran star fell to the turf in real pain. We’re not talking about the sort of phantom pain that we see during international soccer matches. The broken, crooked nose of Johnson wasn’t the result of any sort of dive or play acting.
The league has yet to hand down any sort of punishment regarding the elbow, and that’s a crying shame.
Expect another heated match when the Stars pay a visit to Ontario on Thursday, Jan. 11. Now with just a single game cushion over the Stars (4-6), the Fury (5-5) find themselves looking at some must-wins themselves. Tacoma played them as though they were sharks and they smelled blood in the water, and the team looks very hungry for some more victories.
Things didn’t begin exactly rosy for the Stars at the ShoWare Center. The Fury gained a first-period lead off the foot of De Abreu midway through the stanza. Two minutes later, the newest Tacoma Star got into the scoring mix to tie the game up. Tacoma’s Jamael Cox sent a blast across the face of the Ontario goal, only to find Nick Perera unguarded on the far post. The ball ricocheted just below Perera’s right shoulder into the back of the net.
Ontario would gain some momentum in the second period with early goals by Thiago Goncalves and Israel Sesay. However, the two-goal advantage wouldn’t last long as Tacoma’s Chase Hanson found the back of the goal off a feed from Troy Peterson to make it 3-2 Ontario. Four minutes later, former Stadium High School standout Raphael Cox would take a pass from Perera and notch his own goal. The game was knotted at 3-3 with seven minutes remaining in the first half.
Tacoma would strike again late in the period off the foot of Raphael’s brother Jamael Cox, another former Stadium Tiger. Off an assist by Alain Matingou, Cox would give the Stars a 4-3 lead going into the locker rooms
The Stars began pouring it on thick in the third quarter. Jamael Cox made it 5-3 off an incredible blast off a free kick. Raphael would answer three minutes later with another goal on an assist from Matingou. Tacoma now led 6-3 with just over 10 minutes remaining in the third quarter. Perera would notch his second goal in his Tacoma debut just two minutes later to make it 7-3 Tacoma, and the ShoWare Center crowd was giddy with the goal explosion.
With three minutes left in the third stanza, Peterson would get into the scoring act on a solo blast to make it 8-3 Stars. Just 30 seconds later, former Wilson High School star Joey Gjertsen added his own solo blast to make it 9-3 Tacoma. The score would hold until 5:09 into the fourth quarter as Leonardo De Oliveira closed the gap to 9-4. Playing with a sixth attacker for the entire fourth quarter, Ontario was able to gain some ground, sending in two more goals to get within three of Tacoma at 9-6.
It was at this point where Tacoma had seen enough of Ontario’s attack and began pushing the ball downfield, instead of sitting back and chewing up time. Matingou would give the Stars goal number 10 with just under six minutes left in the match. His solo blast from the yellow line was a missile that tucked just inside the right post. Two minutes later, former Seattle Sounder Philip Lund would gather in a loose ball in front of the Stars’ goal, dribble just past the yellow line and lofted a long ball downfield. The ball landed just past the right side of the goal line on the fly for one of the most impressive shots of the season. The goal also gave Lund a team-leading ninth on the season.
Tacoma will return home on Sunday, Jan. 14, to host the Turlock Express (2-10). First kick is set for 5:05 p.m. at the ShoWare Center in Kent. Tacoma will play three road games to follow and then return home to face the El Paso Coyotes (5-6) on Friday, Feb. 2. For tickets and more information, visit tacomastars.com.
Fans can catch the Stars two away games this week for free on the MASLtv channel on Youtube. Tacoma faces Ontario on Thursday, Jan. 11, at 7:05 p.m. The Stars will then travel to San Diego on Friday, Jan. 12, for a 7:35 p.m. start time.