There is nothing that jazzes a home fan base like a good playoff hunt. When it comes to the Tacoma Stars this season, things have taken a fortuitous U-turn. After slipping to a 2-6 record earlier in the season, Tacoma was in jeopardy of slipping further behind the Ontario Fury for the second, and final, playoff seed out of the Major Arena Soccer League’s Pacific Division.
Since then, the Stars have bolstered their roster with a couple of top-notch veterans and the rest of the team has responded in a big way. Tacoma has earned five victories in the last seven games. In that span, they also knocked off the Fury twice, closing the gap between the two teams to just a half-game lead for Ontario.
Tacoma has seven games remaining on the schedule, with four at the Accesso ShoWare Center in Kent. Ontario must play eight more games with five games at their own Citizens Business Bank Arena. The teams must still face each other twice, and it looks as if there are few, if any, easy matches left for either team.
The Stars traveled to Hidalgo, Texas on Saturday, Jan. 20, to face the Rio Grande Valley Barracudas. While the Barracudas entered the match with just two wins to their name, they would be playing in front of the home crowd, eager to give their fan base some much-needed good news.
It wasn’t going to happen for the Barracudas, as the Stars blew open the game in the second quarter on their way to an 11-2 romp. Tacoma put five goals on the board in the second stanza, followed by four more in the third quarter. The team put it on cruise control a bit in the fourth quarter, where they surrendered a couple of solid scores by the Barracudas, while adding two of their own.
Tacoma would get on the board less than a minute into the first quarter as Nick Perera scored off a feed from Joseph Cairel. Since Perera has joined the Stars, this team has looked markedly different. It’s quite the thing to see how much a big-time veteran can lift the play of the rest of his teammates. It’s clear that wherever he is leading them right now, the boys from the Puget Sound are following.
The Stars would add three more goals in less than eight minutes. A solo blast by Cairel made it 2-0 for Tacoma. Former Stadium Tiger Raphael Cox would then notch two solo goals of his own to push the score to 4-0 for Tacoma. With just over three minutes left in the first half, Perera would knock in his second goal of the night off a feed from Ramone Palmer.
There wasn’t any slowing down for the Stars in the third quarter. Perera scored on another feed from Palmer to earn a hat trick with 10 minutes still to play in the third stanza. Prior to their road trip, Tacoma made a trade for veteran Taylor Walter Bond and the dividends began paying off immediately as Bond drove a solo shot into the back of the net to make it 7-0 Stars with just over seven minutes left in the third quarter.
Despite suffering a broken nose two weeks ago, Derek Johnson returned for the road trip and donned a mask to protect his tender schnoz. Johnson would take a feed from Palmer with 5:37 remaining in the third quarter and deposit it into the back of the net. Troy Peterson would make it 9-0 for Tacoma just four seconds later off of a steal.
In the fourth quarter, Tacoma would add a solo score by Chase Hanson and goal by Palmer off an assist from Cox. Palmer would finish the game with three assists and a goal.
The victory would momentarily improve Tacoma’s record to .500 at 7-7. However, the Stars would have to travel to Monterrey, Mexico the following day to face the undefeated Monterrey Flash. Entering the game at 12-0, the Flash had taken on some of the best in the league so far, including dropping the Milwaukee Wave from the ranks of the undefeated by a score of 15-10 the week prior. Without a doubt, Tacoma was going to have their hands full.
To the surprise of those watching at home on the MASLtv Youtube channel, as well as those in attendance in Monterrey, Tacoma came out swinging for the fences.
Bond would score early for Tacoma off a wall feed from Cairel to make it 1-0 Tacoma with 13:33 left in the first quarter. Six minutes later, Palmer would score on a header off a wall blast by Hanson to make the score 2-0. Perera would add Tacoma’s third goal of the night less than two minutes later and Tacoma would ride a 3-0 lead to the end of the first frame.
Despite pelting the Tacoma goal with 22 shots in the first half, Monterrey was able to muster just a single goal in the second quarter and entered halftime trailing at home 3-1. It was a bit of a shocker.
Monterrey would close to within one goal with 8:34 remaining in the third quarter and it felt as though the home team was beginning to get their groove back. Tacoma would get another goal from Perera with just over five minutes left in the third quarter, and nearly escaped with the 4-2 lead until Brayan Aguilar slipped a shot past Tacoma goalkeeper Danny Waltman. Tacoma would take a 4-3 lead into the fourth quarter, with a huge upset still out there for the taking.
The Flash continued to pepper the Tacoma goal and struck for three scores in the final period, taking a 6-4 victory. It would have been a remarkable victory for the Stars, yet it was still an outstanding performance. Even with the loss, Tacoma has put the rest of the league on notice now.
This could be a very dangerous team if they can make it into the playoffs.
Of course, they’re going to need to get past the Ontario Fury to get there, and then somehow get over the hump against the San Diego Sockers in the first round. It’s still a long journey between now and then though.
Tacoma (7-8) will travel to face Soles de Sonora on Saturday, Jan. 27. The Stars will then return home to face the El Paso Coyotes on Friday, Feb. 2, at 7:35 p.m. Tacoma will then host San Diego on Friday, Feb. 9, at 7:35 p.m., followed by a visit to Ontario on Thursday, Feb. 15.