At one point this season, the Tacoma Stars were sitting on a 2-6 record and fans were beginning to eyeball the panic button, while wiping beads of sweat from nervous foreheads. A month later, it looks as though Tacoma has not only found its collective groove, but they have also made some high-profile additions to the roster.
Tacoma (6-7) has now won four of its last five games, pulling within a half game of the Ontario Fury (6-6) for second place in the Major Arena Soccer League’s Pacific Division standings. With undefeated San Diego sitting atop the standings at 10-0, it would take a minor miracle for either the Fury or the Stars to catch, what may be, the strongest team in the MASL.
The top two teams from the four MASL divisions advance to the playoffs. So that means it’s going to be a horse race to the finish line between Ontario and Tacoma. Fortunately for Tacoma, the Stars have already knocked off the Fury in the first two of their four meetings this season. The first tie-breaker for a playoff spot is how teams did head-to-head.
When the Stars embarked on their recent road trip to Southern California, the stakes were sky high. Tacoma would face Ontario on their home turf on Thursday, Jan. 11. The Fury were looking to get a little revenge against Tacoma, following a heated 11-6 thrashing that they endured at the ShoWare Center in Kent just six days prior.
History was going to be on Ontario’s side, as Tacoma had never left Citizens Business Bank Arena with a win since they joined the MASL in 2015.
However, it was a good thing for the Stars that history doesn’t actually lace up the shoes and do battle between the boards in indoor soccer. The Stars came out firing against Ontario, putting the hosts on their heels. Despite a late push in the fourth quarter, Ontario was unable to match Tacoma’s ferocity, and the Stars left the arena with a well-earned 8-6 victory.
For a night, Tacoma had now drawn even with Ontario in the standings. It wasn’t meant to last long though, as Tacoma would be heading to San Diego to face a Sockers squad that is possibly the stingiest host in the history of the sport. With less than 24 hours of rest, Tacoma wasn’t going to be able to match the Sockers’ intensity throughout the match. Despite some strong play early on, Tacoma fell behind 6-0 by halftime and San Diego was able to coast to an 8-3 victory.
Tacoma would have less than 48 hours to prepare for their third game in three days. Luckily it was at home, and even luckier, it was against the last-place team in the Pacific Division. While the Turlock Express have been good enough to snare an upset here or there over the years, they are one of the struggling teams in this young league. However, if they were looking for any mercy from the Stars, they weren’t going to be getting it on Sunday, Jan. 14.
The Express put up a solid fight in the first period and were able to keep the score knotted at 0-0. Tacoma would break out in the second quarter with a goal by veteran Dan Antoniuk at 3:41 off a feed from Frenchman Alain Matingou. Tacoma led 1-0 with just over 11 minutes remaining in the first half. Tacoma would strike again less than a minute later as Troy Peterson got into the act off a feed from newcomer Nick Perera. Tacoma now led 2-0 with 10:34 remaining in the second quarter. Former Stadium Tiger Jamael Cox would make it three goals for the Stars on an assist from Perera to make the score 3-0, which held into halftime.
Perera would notch his first goal of the game just 35 seconds into the third quarter off a pass from Peterson. The Stars held a 4-0 lead until three minutes later when Turlock put one on the board, followed by another Express goal just over seven minutes into the period. Tacoma would then answer midway through the period on a solo blast from Perera to make it 5-2.
The newcomer from Denmark would then make another sensational goal with just under five minutes left in the third quarter. Philip Lund stole a long pass from Turlock goalkeeper Edgar Martinez, and after a couple of touches, launched a shot from two-thirds of the way downfield that looped over Martinez’ head and into the back-left of the goal. Tacoma would take a 6-2 lead into the final frame.
Lund would strike again off a feed from Matingou just two minutes into the fourth stanza to make it 7-2 Tacoma. Former Stadium Tiger Raphael Cox would follow that up with a goal on an assist from his brother Jamael with just under nine minutes left in the game to make the score 8-2. Turlock would sneak one in about a minute later, but that was as close as the Express was going to come.
Perera notched his third goal of the night with six minutes remaining to give the Stars a 9-3 advantage. The hat trick goal came off a feed from former Wilson Ram Joey Gjertsen. The Cox brothers would then combine again for another goal with a minute left in regulation, as Raphael scored his second of the night.
On Tuesday, Jan. 16, Tacoma announced the acquisition of Taylor Bond from the Cedar Rapids Rampage. Bond has been a serious offensive threat in the MASL, compiling 107 points in 52 league games. So far this season, Bond had scored 10 goals for the Rampage, while adding six assists. The addition of Bond, to go along with the recent trade for Perera, should work wonders for the Stars’ offense. Tacoma has already looked like a new team with the steady hand of Perera on the scene. Now, with Bond, Tacoma looks to be taking a serious step toward becoming a true playoff contender. We’re not just talking about a team making the playoffs here.
For their work last week, both Perera and goalkeeper Danny Waltman were named to the MASL Team of the Week.
Tacoma has three huge road games on tap before they return to the ShoWare Center on Friday, Feb. 2, when they host the El Paso Coyotes (5-7) at 7:35 p.m. The Stars will travel to Hidalgo, Texas, on Saturday, Jan. 20, to face the Rio Grande Valley Barracudas (2-10). The following night, Tacoma will be in Monterrey, Mexico, to face an undefeated Flash squad (12-0). On Saturday, Jan. 27, Tacoma will then travel to Hermasillo, Mexico, to face Soles de Sonora (6-6). This road trip is going to be a huge test for the Stars. A 2-1 mark over this road trip would see the Stars return home sporting an 8-8 record, which will be neck and neck with Ontario. All games can be viewed live on the MASLtv channel on Youtube, live or any time after the game.
On Saturday, Jan. 13, the Tacoma Stars Reserves hosted the Oly Town Artesians in a Western Indoor Soccer League showdown at the Tacoma Soccer Center. After taking a 3-2 lead into halftime, the Stars shutout the Artesians in the final two periods, while adding four goals to the total for a 7-2 victory. Veterans Danny Minniti and Nate Ford each scored two goals, while Adrian Correa, Lucas Dourado and JJ Schmeck added a goal apiece.
With the win, the Stars Reserves (4-2-0) remain within striking distance of the first-place Bellingham Hammers (5-0-0). Tacoma will have a chance to tighten up the race even further when they host the Hammers on Saturday, Jan. 27, at the Tacoma Soccer Center. First kick is set for 7 p.m. This is the fiercest rivalry in the WISL, so mark your calendars and make your plans for this one.