Jurado: “We Have a Good Chance of Beating San Diego”

by Gunnar Berndt

Midfielder offers reminder to “continue looking at the bigger picture”

Ontario, Calif. — The Empire Strykers are far from your typical team on the verge of elimination from playoff contention. Despite their 3-12-0 record (wins-losses-overtime/shootout losses) in Major Arena Soccer League (MASL) play, the Empire players and coaches remain strikingly upbeat these days, even when asked about their recent back-to-back away defeats to the Baltimore Blast and the Kansas City Comets. In looking ahead to another clash with the mighty San Diego Sockers on Sunday, former Sockers member Gerardo Jurado offered some crucial context to go with his club’s current three-game losing streak.

Jurado and company host long-time rival San Diego this coming Sunday, February 18, at 4:05 p.m. PT. Tickets to the match at Toyota Arena in Ontario are available here and are “Buy One, Get One 50% Off” with code “BOGO18” at checkout. All the action will be streamed live in English on Twitch and in Spanish on Canela, with the broadcasts accessible via the two platforms’ respective apps and websites (www.twitch.tv and www.canela.tv). A complete channel guide for upcoming MASL games is here.

In their February 9 meeting with Baltimore, the Strykers fell 7-9 after nearly completing an impressive rally, having battled back from a 1-6 halftime deficit. While Marco Fabián enjoyed yet another standout shift, bagging two goals and an assist, his attacking output was matched by Blast forward Juan Pereira.

Before the break, Empire looked uncomfortable with its surroundings and the opposition. Although Head Coach Paul Wright’s squad trains on a field that features similar dimensions as the field at Townson’s SECU Arena, Baltimore appeared expert at gaining a competitive edge from its unusually short home turf.

“It’s fairly obvious we went into the first half lacking concentration,” offered Mexican Jurado, whose comments in Spanish were graciously translated by Strykers netminder Brian Orozco. “We’re not used to playing league games on such a small field. It doesn’t suit our style of play. But going into halftime, we talked as a team and strategized, and as a result we looked a lot better in the second half and almost managed a comeback. That was encouraging.”

Playing on very little rest, Juardo and company then took on the Comets the very next day, suffering a 2-7 defeat as the home side snapped its eight-game losing streak courtesy of a comprehensive team performance and outstanding goalkeeping from the experienced Nicolau Neto. Empire backstop Orozco had an excellent showing of his own, boasting 14 saves and a .778 save percentage.

“The game was tough due to the travel alone,” said midfielder Jurado. “It’s very difficult playing away from home on back-to back days and having to fly all over the country. But that can’t be an excuse for us. We knew it would be challenging, and we gave it our all. We continued to make too many defensive mistakes, which we really need to fix. We will continue to work on that and do our best to improve.”

While Stefan Mijatovic and Israel Sesay have the most blocked opposition shots on the Strykers (22 and 16, respectively), Fabián remains his side’s undisputed attacking leader. A 2012 Olympic gold medalist and two-time FIFA World Cup veteran, the former El Tri star sits second league-wide in both points-per-game average (2.4 in 12 games) and power play goals (5), tied for fifth in goals (18), and sixth in points (29). While Fabián and Mijatovic jointly lead their team in assists (11 each), Justin Stinson ranks second among all Empire players in points-per-game average (1.6 in 14 games), goals (14), and points (23).

Having joined the Strykers during the offseason, Gerardo Jurado previously spent nearly four years with Sunday’s adversary between 2019 and 2023. With last season ranking as the Tijuana native’s most productive in a Sockers kit, Jurado has truly blossomed into one of the MASL’s better attackers since his arrival in the Inland Empire.

“San Diego is a complete team,” said the man who sits fourth on the Strykers in points (12). Not only are they very good defensively and at possessing the ball. They’re also very clinical around the goal and take every opportunity they get. That said, we have a lot of young guys who are physical and fast, so if we can figure out the defensive side of things, I think we have a good chance of beating them. By being focused and working hard, I believe we can have a positive result.”

A traditional powerhouse of the sport, the Sockers lifted the 2021-22 Ron Newman Cup trophy, followed by an excellent 2022-23 regular season. Having won the West with 62 points and a 22-2 record, Head Coach Phil Salvagio’s men lost a dramatic conference semifinal series against eventual champion Chihuahua Savage, falling in overtime of the decisive game.

More than halfway into its current campaign, San Diego boasts a 12-2-0 record to go with its dominant lead atop the Western Conference. The two-time MASL champ most recently bounced back from a 6-8 away defeat to Chihuahua with a 5-4 home win over the Texas Outlaws this past Tuesday. The Sockers, who host the Outlaws again on Thursday, have won both of their previous meetings with Empire in 2023-24, bagging a 7-3 victory at home in mid-December and an 8-5 victory on the road in mid-January.

San Diego’s Tavoy Morgan is not only tied for third in the league in points (31) and tied for third in assists along with his teammates and ex-Empire standouts Charlie Gonzalez and Gabriel Costa (14 each). The 28-year-old is also tied for fifth along with current Sockers and former Strykers ace Leonardo DeOliveira in points-per-game average (2.2 in 14 games and 2.2 in 9 games, respectively) as well as tied for eighth along with San Diego midfielder Brandon Escoto in goals (17 each). While Cesar Cerda leads the MASL in short-handed goals (2), indoor legend Kraig Chiles is tied for sixth in power play goals (3).

Boris Pardo is tied for the second-most wins of all goalkeepers league-wide (8). The 39-year-old’s backline is anchored by fellow veteran Guerrero Pino, who ranks tied for sixth in the MASL in blocked opposition shots (28). Pino is trailed on the Sockers by Mitchell Cardenas (18).

With Empire’s playoff hopes nearing total evaporation, a victory over its long-time rival would serve as a much-needed morale boost. Following consecutive postseason absences and a radical roster overhaul, the Western Conference outfit finds itself just below the all-important line in fifth but trailing the fourth-place Tacoma Stars by a seemingly insurmountable 13 points. The team’s situation is complicated by the fact it only has nine more matches left to play while Tacoma has eleven games left on its regular season schedule.

“Of course, reaching the knockout rounds is very difficult now, given the standings and the way the results have gone,” conceded Strykers attacker Jurado.” Despite that, I’d say we’re keeping our heads and still doing the best we can. This is a rebuild year and a lot of our guys are young and new to the sport. One of the positives that comes with is that everyone wants to learn. We know this kind of project can take time, so we continue to look at the bigger picture.”

The Empire Strykers take on long-time rivals San Diego Sockers this coming Sunday, February 18. Tickets to the high-profile clash at Ontario’s Toyota Arena are available here.