Empire vs. San Diego to Headline United Soccer Coaches Convention in Anaheim

by Gunnar Berndt

January’s MASL showcase will be first of its kind in event history

Ontario, Calif. — The Empire Strykers, in conjunction with the Major Arena Soccer League (MASL) and United Soccer Coaches, will be hosting a special showcase match against the San Diego Sockers at this coming January’s United Soccer Coaches Convention in Anaheim. The occasion will mark the first time a clash between two MASL flagship teams takes center stage at the annual blockbuster event, which constitutes the largest gathering of soccer coaches worldwide.

Dubbed the MASL Pro Indoor Cup, Empire’s clash with long-time rival San Diego is scheduled to kick off at 5pm PT on January 11, 2024, and will see a limited number of tickets made available to the public. Anyone looking to witness history should click here for more information. Tickets to the Empire Strykers’ big MASL home opener against the Baltimore Blast on December 15, 2023, may be purchased here.

The MASL participated in the two previous editions of the United Soccer Coaches Convention, hosting training sessions and lectures.

January’s meeting between Empire and the mighty Sockers not only provides a unique opportunity to expose coaches and administrators from across all levels to the excitement of top-class arena soccer. For the Strykers, the trip to Orange County also signifies a return to their roots. The club’s quasi-predecessor, the Anaheim Bolts (initially known as the Los Angeles Bolts), played at Anaheim Convention Center before suspending operations in 2013. Later that year, Bolts founder Bernie Lilavois unveiled the Ontario Fury and announced that the new team would be playing at Ontario’s Toyota Arena (differently named at the time).

Last year, the organization rebranded as Empire Strykers in order to adequately reflect its deep ties and commitment to the entire surrounding region. 

The upcoming MASL season promises to be an especially intriguing one in terms of the rivalry between the league’s two Southern California sides, as Paul Wright, a Sockers attacking legend, was appointed as Empire’s new head coach four months ago. Back in 2011, Wright already had a brief stint with the Anaheim Bolts as a player, joining from San Diego.

The Strykers’ executive vice president, Jimmy Nordberg, who was instrumental in securing Wright’s services this time around, recognized the importance of his club battling the Sockers as part of the United Soccer Coaches Convention Anaheim ‘24.

“Obviously it’s a massive chance to show a lot of people who bleed the beautiful game why we bleed our version of it,” offered Nordberg. “Arena soccer is incredibly intense, technical, fast-paced and high-scoring. We have long believed that if you love the sport on grass, it’s nearly impossible not to love it on turf when it’s played by such fantastic athletes. While adding the passion of a local rivalry, this match also allows us to connect our present and future to our past. It will truly be a special occasion for us.”

The sentiment was echoed by commissioner of the MASL, Keith Tozer.

“This unique event provides an incredible opportunity to showcase our players’ talents in front of coaches, administrators, instructors and professional clubs from across the United States and around the world,” he said. “It’s a game-changing platform for the sport, uniting the global soccer community right here in Anaheim.”

The high-profile encounter between Empire and San Diego will be broadcast globally via the MASL’s broadcast partners, Twitch and Canela.

The Empire Strykers kick off their MASL regular season with a pair of road games in Mexico, as they face the Chihuahua Savage on November 24 and the Monterrey Flash on November 26, followed by a trip to take on the St. Louis Ambush on December 9. The Stryker’s home opener against Baltimore at Ontario’s Toyota Arena is set for December 15.