There are some big changes on the horizon for the Tacoma Stars. After starting the season 2-0 and looking better than ever in their professional run in the Major Arena Soccer League, the team was hit with the news of a coaching change prior to their third match of the season against rival Ontario.
Tacoma will be soon charting unknown waters with a new set of hands at the wheel. Since returning to the professional ranks late in the 2014-15 season as a replacement for the abysmal Seattle Impact, the Stars have known only one head coach since. The club took on the character and attitude of head coach Darren Sawatzky, and the outdoor and indoor veteran helped lead the Stars to a pair of playoff berths in three full seasons of action.
Now, Sawatzky will be heading south to take over the reins of the newly minted FC Tucson of the USL One League. Before leaving, Sawatsky will coach the Stars over what could be a blistering road trip prior to Christmas. Tacoma will travel to San Diego to face the dreaded Sockers on Saturday, Dec. 22. The following evening, Tacoma will head up to face an Ontario Fury squad that just handed the Stars their first loss of the season.
The Stars could easily enter Christmas with a 2-3 record when sizing up the potency of their next two opponents. However, perhaps the boys will rally for their old skipper two more times and jolt the rest of the MASL with a pair of road upsets.
To be honest, a road split would be pretty darn good for a team that is about to move on to a new and different coach.
So far, there hasn’t been any whispers from the Stars organization about who they may be looking at to take over for what amounts to the bulk of the remaining Tacoma schedule. However, it was interesting to see some original Tacoma Stars in the stands. It was impossible to miss former fan favorite, and MLS Hall of Famer Preki talking with his old teammate Ralph Black for much of the match against Ontario on Saturday, Dec. 15.
With both Preki and Black residing in the area, the fans were buzzing about the possibility of one of the originals from the olden days taking over. While he wasn’t there, several folks also brought up the name of current Bellarmine Prep head coach Joey Waters, who was also a longtime fan favorite during his days wearing the argyle in the Tacoma Dome.
Again, it’s all speculation, as the Stars are staying mum on the future coaching details. They are certainly going to need a coach with indoor soccer experience. Players kick a round soccer ball into a pair of goals, but after that, the game is vastly different than the outdoor model. A coach is going to need to be able to manage a flow of different shifts of players (much like the game of hockey), and he’s going to need to be able to manage and make player adjustments on the fly.
One thing the new coach is going to have at his disposal is a roster that is easily the most dangerous group of Stars that have been put together since moving back to the big time. A new coach is going to need to massage the line-up and make sure to get the right pieces of the puzzle working with the likes of point-producing veteran Nick Perera. When the team is clicking and the Tacoma attackers are moving their feet, Perera becomes one of the best in the game with his ability to set-up a teammate for a goal, or just make his own magic happen and blast a shot into the back of the net.
In the 6-3 loss against Ontario, the Stars were sorely missing the talents of two former Seattle Sounders. The “Danish Dynamo” Philip Lund, was spending some time back home with the family, while former Sounder favorite James Riley had dinged up his knee a little bit in practice the week prior, and needed to sit out the contest with Ontario. Lund has already shown to be a lightning strike for the Stars with five goals in two matches this season. On the other end of the field, Riley’s defensive skills have already come to the forefront, as he is incredibly fast closing in on the ball, and his passing ability has matched his head for the game.
In their absence, the Stars came out rather flat against Ontario. They seemed to constantly be searching for a groove that would get their motor running, but it only appeared in flashes. With the likes of Chris Toth now in goal for Ontario, Tacoma is going to have to bring their top game against the Fury in each of their contests this season to maintain close proximity to the top of the MASL Pacific Division’s top rung. Toth made 13 saves against the Stars, and Tacoma needed three dazzling goals to just keep it close. The defense put up a solid effort in the second half, allowing Ontario just two scores, but the Tacoma offense was blanked over the final 30 minutes.
Tacoma will return home for a doubleheader weekend on Friday, Jan. 11, as they host last season’s MASL Western Conference champions from Monterrey, Mexico. The following night, Tacoma will again face the Ontario Fury, for what is sure to be a full-on playoff atmosphere at the Accesso ShoWare Center.
For tickets and more information, visit www.tacomastars.com.