Marco Fabián, Strykers Face Baltimore in Home Opener
Head Coach Wright’s men look to build on “high confidence” and “good energy”
Ontario, California — It’s history in the making this week for the Empire Strykers, as they were joined on the training field by recent signing and former Mexican international Marco Fabián, who is likely to make his Major Arena Soccer League (MASL) debut in Friday’s home opener against the Baltimore Blast. The blockbuster clash at Ontario’s Toyota Arena comes on the heels of Empire’s first victory of the season, a hard-fought 8-7 result over home side St. Louis Ambush.
Marco Fabián and the Empire Strykers face visiting Baltimore on December 15 at 7:35 p.m. PT. Tickets are available here.
Playing in their third straight road game, the Strykers downed St. Louis Sunday to avoid an 0-3 record, having previously dropped consecutive matches in Mexico after an offseason that saw the departure of nearly all of the club’s established veterans. Head Coach Paul Wright’s men held a three-goal lead over the Ambush in the in the final quarter before fighting off a late rally from the hosts, the narrow win coming courtesy of a strong opening period and an attacking clinic by midfielder Gerardo Jurado, who bagged four assists and a goal. Ambush midfielder William Eskay had four tallies in the contest.
Notably, a total of seven Empire players found the back of the net at The Family Arena in St. Charles, Missouri.
“We’re happy we got the result, but we have to work on being more organized,” offered Empire Head Coach Paul Wright. “Our inexperience showed at times, and our second-half performance didn’t match our first-half performance. It’s expected with such a young team and so many players who are new to the indoor game. That said, we showed how deep we are and that you can’t focus on just one or two of our guys. Instead, we have several players who are explosive and able to create. That was the idea when we built this roster. I believe we will gel and that everyone will fully understand the system we’re trying to implement.”
The Strykers will strive for continued improvement in Friday’s momentous meeting with Baltimore. After never missing the playoffs since its inaugural MASL season in 2014-15, the Blast looks to bounce back from back-to-back home defeats to start 2023-24, having fallen 10-6 to Utica City FC and 9-5 to the Texas Outlaws. The arrival of Empire’s newest midfielder, two-time FIFA World Cup veteran Fabián, promises to add yet another a spark to an attack whose output at St. Louis is sure to have turned some heads around the league. The Strykers also benefit from having had their recent injury situation ease up.
“Besides having great vision and an incredible touch, Marco is a very good finisher,” said Head Coach Wright. “We will evaluate him at practice during the next couple of days. As a staff, we have to make sure we use all of his assets by putting him in the position he’s most comfortable in. With Marco joining the team and several players getting healthy, we’re only going to get stronger. The confidence is high and the energy is good. We want to continue to build on that.”
While Strykers netminder Brandon Gomez is tied for third in the MASL in total saves (42), defender Stefan Mijatovic is tied for second league-wide in blocked opposition shots (11). The Empire attack is led by Jurado, who boasts five points and a 1.7 points-per-game average (3 games) thanks to his one goal and four assists (tied for 2nd in MASL). Abdul Mansaray leads the Strykers in goals scored (3) while sitting second in both total points (4) and points-per-game average (1.3 in 3 games).
With goalkeeper William Vanzela gone from the Baltimore roster and the ageless Nelson Santana having moved on to Utica City, the Blast backline is anchored by club legend Adriano Dos Santos, back from an injury that sidelined him for nearly the entire 2022-23 campaign. Meanwhile, the team’s offense is without Jonatas Melo and Lucas Roque, the latter having joined the Strykers during the offseason as one of the most lethal forwards in the history of the sport. Together, Melo and Roque formed a dynamic attacking duo for the Blast for numerous seasons.
At 39 years old, Baltimore’s Tony Donatelli went on a tear in his side’s first two games of 2023-24, boasting a 2.5 points-per-game average courtesy of three goals and two assists. While striker Juan Pereira has three helpers, Victor Parreiras, Josh Hughes, and Ricardinho Sobreira each sit on two points.
Paul Wright provided insight into his players’ mindsets as well as his own mentality heading into Friday’s historic matchup. While former Blast standout Roque is in doubt for the game due to family-related reasons, the Empire Head Coach was sure to utilize the 35-year-old’s expertise in preparing for the game.
Said Wright, “The guys are excited to play in front of our home fans, so we won’t need to worry about a lack of energy. If anything, it will be more about containing the energy and making sure we stay focused. Having watched some tape on Baltimore, they’re definitely dangerous. Lucas has helped us identify some of the things they try to do, so that’s been very valuable. But ulimately, it’s really about us and our development. The main focus is on understanding each other better and fixing the little things so we can keep growing as a unit.”
The Empire Strykers’ big home opener against the Baltimore Blast, likely to feature former Mexican international Marco Fabián, is set to kick off this coming Friday, December 15, at 7:35 p.m. PT. Tickets for the high-profile clash at Ontario’s Toyota Arena may be found here.