Fabián Bags Hat-trick as Empire Loses 4-6 to Savage

by Gunnar Berndt

Strykers eliminated from playoff contention despite showing promise, again

WATCH: Marco Fabián postgame comments (English & Spanish)
WATCH: Alan Perez postgame comments (English)

Ontario, Calif. — The Empire Strykers were officially eliminated from playoff contention on Tuesday evening, losing 4-6 to defending Major Arena Soccer League (MASL) champion Chihuahua Savage despite another promising performance. While Empire’s Mexican star Marco Fabián had a hat-trick in the contest, thereby scoring in his 16th straight match since arriving to the indoor game three months ago, his visiting compatriots prevailed thanks to their trademark team play and defensive discipline. Strykers netminder Brian Orozco enjoyed a standout shift yet again, boasting 15 saves and a .750 save percentage.

Although the Savage dominated both possession and the shots count early in the match, it took Head Coach Genoni Martinez’s men until deep inside the first period to create a clear-cut opportunity. Unfortunately for Empire, it also marked the opening tally of the match, Hugo Puentes firing home. Chihuahua very nearly doubled its lead not long thereafter, but Empire ‘keeper Orozco did well to cut down the angle on Jose Gilberto Lopez’s point-blank header and managed to slap the ball into the ground.

The visitors did make it 0-2 on a rare Orozco mistake, as the 22-year-old let the ball skip off his gloves and into the net on a long-range effort by Miguel Angel Diaz from the left, the helper going to Carlos Hernandez.

The home side cut its deficit in half in the second quarter. Having alertly intercepted a sloppy defensive pass by Arturo Valle, Alan Perez sprinted in on goal all alone and slotted inside the left upright to make it 1-2. Fabián then leveled the score after intermission. Seeing the ball fall to his feared right foot, the former El Tri ace hit an unstoppable volley from inside the area to make it 2-2. With the momentum now on its side, Empire kept pushing forward and nearly reaped the reward when Quenton Swift unleashed from close range, only to see the ball tipped high in spectacular fashion by ‘keeper Diego Reynoso.

Strykers backstop Orozco recorded another quality save of his own moments later, leaving his feet for a two-handed parry on Lopez’s dangerous drive from the left. However, Orozco would be left helpless on the game’s next netter, Jaime Alejandro Romero scoring from Lopez to put his side back in the lead. The man between the Empire sticks did shine once more when he leaped off the ground for a stunning save on teammate Swift’s inadvertent goal-bound touch following a wild shot off the boards.

After Fabián was unlucky to have his touch at the other end judged to have stayed out of the goal, the visitors made it 2-4 on a strike by Erick Tovar and an assist by Angel Castro. Fabián then bagged Empire’s third before the end of the third period, firing home with his right on a Perez helper.

The Savage re-established its previous cushion inside the final quarter, as Brandon González picked out the lower part of the right side-netting with an excellent left-footed drive from just outside the box. Although Fabián pulled another one back for Empire on a Gerardo Jurado assist, it wasn’t enough for the hone side, which saw all its hopes evaporate when Tovar completed his brace and rounded out the final score at 4-6 on an Escalante restart.

The Empire Strykers will look to build on the strong performance in this coming Sunday’s away clash with rivals San Diego Sockers. Marco Fabián and company then welcome San Diego to Ontario’s Toyota Arena on Sunday, March 17. Tickets are available here.