TACOMA STARS SPARKLE IN WIN: Sawatzky exits for FC Tucson

Tacoma Stars goalkeeper Danny Waltman (#24) and his teammates have looked solid to start the season 2-0. Photo by Bob Bunn

*Note – Just prior to going to press, the Tacoma Stars made an announcement concerning head coach Darren Sawatzky. After more than three years running the Tacoma Stars professional team, Sawatzky will be leaving to take over the reins for FC Tucson of the USL League One. Sawatzky has been instrumental in building the Stars’ franchise into a professional playoff contender. He was also at the helm when Tacoma won the first-ever Western Indoor Soccer League championship. The MLS veteran has sent a multitude of players to the professional ranks as the leader and head coach of the Sounders U23 program. No word on his replacement with the Stars, or the Sounders U23 has been released.

After two weeks of action, the new-look Tacoma Stars are playing like a team that looks very hungry. Since rejoining the professional ranks in the Major Arena Soccer League three seasons ago, the Stars have never looked as potent as this season’s squad. However, with fellow MASL Pacific Division rivals San Diego and Ontario looking as strong (or stronger) than ever, this Tacoma team is going to need every bit of this newfound offensive firepower if it has any hopes of advancing to the playoffs.

In recent years, the Stars appeared to be working out some kinks early in the season. While there is certainly plenty of room to grow more together and find a cohesion that looks even stronger than it already has displayed on the field, this team looks closer to being in mid-season form, than a group that just wrapped its second game of the campaign.

The Dallas Sidekicks paid a visit to the Accesso ShoWare Center on Friday, Dec. 7, looking to pull off a big road victory. As hosts, the Stars weren’t in the mood to roll out the red carpet for the boys from Texas. Meanwhile, there were plenty of Tacoma fans in the stands who look at any victory over the Sidekicks as a blessing from the soccer gods.

It’s been more than 31 years since a different Sidekicks team dashed the hopes and dreams of the Stars faithful at the Tacoma Dome. Two consecutive Dallas comebacks snatched the MISL championship trophy from out of Tacoma’s grasp, and for many fans, the wounds suffered refuse to completely heal.

When the final buzzer sounded on the recent match-up, there were quite a few smiles and high fives throughout the ShoWare stands. A second-quarter burst would give Tacoma a cushion, and then the defense put in some extra work later, to hold off any sort of Dallas comeback for a 9-6 Stars victory.

Tacoma and Dallas played to a stalemate in the first quarter. It was clear that the Sidekicks were going to try to employ a bit of ball control and try to slow the game down a little. It appeared to pay off for Dallas. When the first 15 minutes of play had ended, the two clubs had combined for just four shots on goal and the scoreboard read 0-0.

This pace of play wasn’t going to last for Dallas, as Tacoma began to ramp-up the pressure and the flow of the match not only sped up, but tilted toward the attacking pace of the Stars. It took just one minute of action for Tacoma to put the first goal on the board. Matt Clare took a heel feed from Nick Perera and blasted a low, left-footer to make it 1-0. It wouldn’t be the last time either player chimed in for some points in the game.

Five minutes into the second quarter, former Stadium Tiger Jamael Cox gathered in an extra touch from Chase Hanson and slipped the ball past Dallas goalkeeper Juan Gamboa for a 2-0 Tacoma lead. With 10 minutes left in the period, Tacoma’s offensive barrage was just getting started.

Last season, Tacoma’s Philip Lund earned MASL co-Rookie of the Year honors. This season, he is playing like a seasoned veteran. The “Danish Dynamo” got into the scoring act against Dallas midway into the second quarter on a waist-high feed from Vince McCluskey to make it 3-0 with just over seven minutes to play in the first half.

It would take only 56 seconds for Lund to punch in his second goal of the night. Tacoma’s Mike Ramos pushed the ball beyond the Dallas defense, and then saw Lund streaking down the center of the field. With a perfect bit of touch, Ramos threaded the ball between a Dallas defender and Gamboa, meeting a sliding Lund at just the right moment. Lund put a right foot on the ball and found the back of the net for a 4-0 Stars lead and the ShoWare crowd was eating it up.

Dallas would finally get on the board with a solo blast from Nestor Hernandez with just under four minutes remaining in the half. The Star answered less than a minute later with a goal from former Wilson Ram star Joey Gjertsen off of an assist from Cory Keitz. The 5-1 Tacoma lead would hold to the halftime buzzer.

The Sidekicks jumped out with two goals in the first two minutes of play in the third quarter, and suddenly this 5-3 game looked like it was going to go the distance.

Four minutes later, Clare, a former star with the San Diego Sockers, pushed through his second goal of the night on a feed from Ramos to make it 6-3 in the Stars favor. Both defenses would then buckle down for the remainder of the third quarter, allowing no more goals.

Tacoma gave itself some breathing room in the fourth quarter with goals by Perera, Lund and Cox. Lund’s hat trick would be the second of the season, following Perera’s own on opening night. The Sidekicks would tack on three later goals to make it interesting, but would get no closer than the final 9-6 score.

Tacoma (2-0) will host rival Ontario (2-0) on Saturday, Dec. 15, at the Accesso ShoWare Center at 7:05 p.m. Even though it’s early in the season, be prepared for a playoff-level atmosphere. For tickets visitwww.tacomastars.com.

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