Stinson Shines as Strykers Lose 7-5 Thriller to Tacoma

by Gunnar Berndt

Stars win powered by dominant first quarter, trio of standout performances   

Ontario, Calif. — The Empire Strykers rued a listless opening quarter on Sunday evening, as they fell to the visiting Tacoma Stars in dramatic fashion. The 7-5 defeat, which sees Empire drop to 2-7-0 (wins-losses-overtime-shootout losses) on its Major Arena Soccer League (MASL) campaign, came courtesy of three straight Tacoma tallies in the first period as well as standout outings from Nick Perera, Jamael Cox, and ex-Strykers ‘keeper Chris Toth. While Perera and Cox each had three points, Toth boasted 20 saves and a .750 save percentage. Empire ace Justin Stinson had two goals and an assist in the contest.

After Toth did well to rush off his line and deny Strykers forward Harold Hanson’s one-on-one opportunity, the Stars took the lead somewhat against the run of play, Nick Perera setting up Matt Braem on a counterattack. The away team could have doubled its lead, but Empire netminder Brandon Gomez produced a fingertip save to keep out a powerful drive by Michael Ramos. Tacoma did make it 0-2 not long thereafter, as Jamael Cox converted a helper from Alex Caceres. Defender Caceres bagged his second assist of the day moments later, Logan Jones finding the net to make it 0-3.

The home side finally pulled one back on a breakaway in the second quarter, as Hanson’s through ball released Momo Gueye and the Senegalese-American calmly slotted past Toth. The Stars came close to reestablishing their previous advantage on consecutive looks, Strykers ‘keeper Gomez twice rising the occasion to keep his team within two. First, the Los Angeles native went fully outstretched for a right-handed diving parry against Adrean Correa. Then, he left his feet to tip over Perera’s long-range rocket. However, Gomez would be helpless when Cox made it 1-4 on an assist by Perera.

In the game’s third period, the fans at Toyota Arena had reason to think perhaps it wasn’t meant to be for their side, as former Mexico international Marco Fabián sent a seemingly simple finish from the doorstep over the bar, wasting a golden chance to strike on a power play. Empire was very nearly punished for the squandered look when Gomez had to sprint far off his line and come up with an outstanding kick save to deny Cox. At the other end, a fierce Fabián drive forced a strong diving save by Toth, followed by the Strykers’ second tally of the match. Mijatovic tapped the ball home from close range, Randy Martinez bagging the assist.

The Stars pounced on a fourth-quarter power play to make it 2-5. After Strykers shot-stopper Gomez went airborne to palm over a wicked Cox effort from range, the 27-year-old could do nothing to prevent Perera’s finish on a helper by Cox. Stinson subsequently pulled one back for Empire, having received the ball from Fabián, but a rare error by netminder Gomez allowed Tacoma to regain the momentum, Panamanian FIFA World Cup veteran Román Torres taking full advantage to make it 3-6.

To the Strykers' credit, they battled back and reaped the reward when Stinson let rip from way outside, the ball just barely crossing the line after hitting the underside of the crossbar. Alan Perez recorded the assist on the play. Having survived an opposition power play, the home side truly made things exciting late in the period, Stinson setting up Fabián and the former El Tri star firing home for a 5-6 contest. While Empire did everything it could to force the game into overtime, Tacoma’s Kyle Rivers had other ideas, as he benefited from a sixth-attacker situation and found the open net to seal the deal.

The Empire Strykers look for a morale-boosting home win this coming Wednesday in their clash with long-time rivals San Diego Sockers. Tickets for the contest at Toyota Arena in Ontario are available here.