The Tacoma Stars season came to a close in the first-round of the Major Arena Soccer League Pacific Division playoffs in San Diego. Despite ample amounts of grit and guts, the Stars were unable to overcome one of the very best teams in the entire league. There was a reason that the San Diego Sockers finished the regular season with a 19-3 record, and they didn’t get there by accident.
For their part, the Tacoma Stars certainly went down swinging.
As a matter of fact, for a couple of days, the Stars held the advantage in their three-game playoff series with the Sockers. Buoyed by a late-season run that earned them a playoff berth in the final week of the season, the Stars and their fans were looking to stun the Sockers in their first game of the series. Under the friendly roof at the Accesso ShoWare Center on Thursday, March 8, Tacoma put together the kind of performance that reminded their loyal fans why it is that they’ve grown to love the team so much.
Let’s be real. When you’re playing a team that just finished the regular season with an .864 winning percentage, and handled your squad in all four games this season, any victory is going to feel like you and your team just conquered the world.
That’s how it felt at the ShoWare when the final buzzer sounded on the Stars’ 5-2 victory over the Sockers in game one. A renewed sense of hope was in the air to go along with the dizzying euphoria that goes along with beating a franchise that has manhandled Tacoma dating back more than 30 years. Now, if they could just squeak out one more win over the next two games, Tacoma would be heading to a one-game MASL Western Conference championship showdown with the league-leading Flash from Monterrey.
Of course, it wasn’t going to go down like that, but it was a fun possibility for a couple of days.
A total of five different Stars scored in their game-one victory. After both teams tested the waters for much of the first period, Tacoma made the first move on the scoreboard. Philip Lund, the “Danish Sensation,” put the Stars on the board with just under five minutes remaining in the first quarter. It would take Tacoma just 40 seconds to add a second goal when Chase Hanson found Nick Perera near the back-corner of the San Diego goal for a quick one-two combination. Tacoma would take their 2-0 lead into the first break.
San Diego would answer in the second quarter with two goals of their own. Felipe Gonzalez would score just over four minutes into the second stanza, with Kraig Chiles adding another goal less than three minutes later. The teams were knotted at 2-2 going into the locker rooms at halftime.
The third quarter was a nail-biter. Both squads were doing everything they could to break the stalemate, but neither able to hit pay dirt. The fourth quarter proved to be a rather physical affair, with both clubs getting hot underneath the collar with one another. There were two blue cards dished out in the period, as well as two red cards that were magically rescinded by the referee following an official’s conference that seemed to go on forever.
Despite the physical play, the quarter belonged to the Stars. Taylor Walter Bond took a feed from former Wilson High School standout Joey Gjertsen and found the back of the net nearly four minutes into the final frame to give Tacoma a 3-2 lead. It would take just 90 seconds for Tacoma to add another goal as former Stadium High School stud Jamael Cox knocked in a solo blast to make it 4-2 Tacoma with just under 10 minutes remaining.
Jamael’s brother, Raphael Cox, would get into the act late in the game for his own score off a feed from former Bellarmine Prep standout goalkeeper Danny Waltman. The final score of 5-2 would put the Sockers on notice that Tacoma wasn’t just happy to have made it into the playoffs. They were in it to shock the entire league.
The Stars hung tight in game two on Saturday, March 10, in San Diego. Despite trailing 2-0 after one quarter, Tacoma was still within striking distance to even the score up. The second quarter began with another Sockers’ goal and Tacoma now trailed 3-0 just 22 seconds into the period. Perera would close the gap just 90 seconds later off a feed from Evan McNeley to make the score 3-1 San Diego.
The Sockers were not in the mood to let Tacoma claw themselves back into the game. Goals by goalkeeper Chris Toth and Cesar Cerda made the score 5-1 and the Sockers looked as though they could run away with it. A Tacoma goal from Robert Palmer gave the Stars a little life late in the second stanza, and the 5-2 score held going into halftime.
Tacoma struck quickly in the opening moments of the third quarter as Jamael Cox notched a goal off a feed from Cory Keitz. The score was now 5-3 and things were beginning to get interesting in San Diego, as the score held all the way to the end of the quarter.
The fourth quarter would be all San Diego as the Sockers poured on four goals to finish off the Stars by a score of 9-3. With the series now tied at one game apiece, the teams would take a short intermission and then return to the field for one of the oddities of the MASL.
In case of a tie after two games, the MASL employs a 15-minute “mini game” to find their series’ winner. From the opening whistle it was clear that San Diego planned on closing up shop on the Stars. Nine minutes into the mini game, San Diego was riding high with a 4-0 lead and two minutes later, added another to make it 5-0. Lund and Cox would net a couple of scores for Tacoma, but the damage had been done and San Diego would move on in the playoffs with a 6-2 victory.
Tacoma will return to MASL action in December. Stay tuned.