Strykers “Can’t Wait” for Crucial Clash with Tacoma
Attacker Stinson and company eager to avoid third straight defeat
Ontario, Calif. — After consecutive losses to visiting Baltimore and host San Diego just over a week ago, the Empire Strykers are intent on boosting their morale and their postseason chances on Thursday with what would be a crucial home win over the Tacoma Stars. A third straight defeat would put genuine pressure on Head Coach Paul Wright and his squad as the Strykers look to return to the Major Arena Soccer League (MASL) playoffs following a two-year absence. Sitting at 1-4, Wright’s men can ill-afford to fall further behind in the count if they are to avoid a Herculean task in the three remaining months of the regular season.
Empire takes on Tacoma this coming Thursday, December 28, at 7:05 p.m. PT. The match at Ontario’s Toyota Arena will feature the club’s annual Stuffed Animal Toss as well as $10 tickers for all seats, available for purchase here. All the action will be streamed live in English and Spanish via the MASL's channels on Twitch and Canela, respectively. A complete channel lineup for live MASL broadcasts may be found here.
Playing in front of their home fans for the first time, Empire fell 7-5 to the Baltimore Blast on December 15. While Marco Fabián made history in his maiden MASL game, bagging a goal and two assists for the Strykers, Baltimore’s Moises Gonzalez matched the Mexican’s attacking output to lead his side to victory.
Said Empire Head Coach Wright, “With it being our home opener and Marco’s debut, you could tell we had some nerves in the first quarter and the guys were a little bit on edge. Once we settled down, we started to play our type of game, but we were faced with a very experienced team that exposed us somewhat in our inexperience.”
A mere two days later, the Strykers battled the mighty San Diego Sockers to an even, stingy affair until defender Bryce Watson picked up a blue card in the second period and his short-handed mates subsequently conceded the first tally of the contest. The Sockers would score two more before the end of the quarter and ultimately held on for a 7-3 win. Empire showed a decent reaction after the break, Justin Stinson finding the net twice and Fabián scoring a goal of his own.
“We had a pretty good game plan going in and stuck to it,” offered Paul Wright, who rose to legendary status with San Diego as a forward. “We did well to keep it scoreless for a long time, but then the power play against us got the momentum going in the wrong direction. We fought back in the second half and got back to within one, so there were some positive takeaways, given we were up against a world-class team at their venue.
With his brace against the Sockers, midfielder Stinson demonstrated in impressive fashion why he was among the Strykers’ leading attackers last season. Despite the recent back-to-back losses, the 26-year-old offered a positive assessment of the state of his side.
Said Stinson, “We had a good week of training before the two games and another good week after that, so it feels like things are still going well. We’re all staying focused on what we need to do better and working hard to get there as quickly as possible.”
Additional insight was offered by Paul Wright. The first-year professional coach has been tasked with building a winning team out of a roster that saw the departure of nearly all of Empire’s accomplished veterans during the offseason as well as the arrival of a host of young, hungry players at the beginning of their indoor careers.
“We’re starting to see what our guys can do,” remarked Wright. “For us to be at our highest level, we just need more games so we can figure out how to put our best defending and our best offense on the field at the same time. One problem against San Diego was that we were so focused on giving up fewer goals that we didn’t have a lot of shots. We haven’t been using our speed and athleticism the way we should. I think it might be time to give our players some more freedom to be creative and attack.”
The 54-year-old continued, “We’ve got the toughest part of our schedule out of the way, so we should have a decent chance to put some wins on the board. Only having one win so far is a little bit of a concern, but I am of the belief that when we take care of our work and get better as a group, the results will come.”
Strykers netminder Brandon Gomez has the second-most saves in the league (62). The Los Angeles native’s backline is anchored by Stefan Mijatovic, who is tied for the MASL lead in blocked opposition shots (16).
Two-time FIFA World Cup veteran Fabián leads the Empire attack with a 2.0 points-per-game average, followed by fellow Mexican Gerardo Jurado (1.6). Midfielder Jurado also has the most points on the team (8) and sits tied for third league-wide in assists (6). Justin Stinson and Abdul Mansaray are tops on their side’s roster in goals (3 each), with Mansaray also having the second-most points on the team (5) and sitting tied for second in assists with Fabián (2). Notably, defender Claude Bilal Dielna is tied for third on Empire with a pair of goals in just three games.
The Strykers’ upcoming meeting with Tacoma could well turn out crucial for the final standings, as the two Western Conference foes have had several tight duels for playoff spots over the years. Just last season, Empire missed out on the postseason by a hair’s breadth, as the Southern Californians ended up tied on points with both the Stars and the Mesquite Outlaws (now Texas Outlaws). Needing to finish in fifth place, the Strykers ended up just below the line in sixth, losing out to Tacoma on goal differential and to Mesquite via of the head-to-head tie breaker. The Outlaws would go on to defeat the Stars in the play-in game.
Empire’s next opponent currently holds a 1-2 record and sits one spot ahead of Head Coach Wright’s men in the fourth and final playoff position, having fallen to San Diego both at home and on the road before defeating visiting Baltimore 7-4 on December 17.
The Stars boast ex-Empire shot-stopper Chris Toth, MLS and 2018 FIFA World Cup veteran Román Torres of Panama, and fellow defender Alex Caceres, who has collected two points while playing in all three games thus far.
Indoor legend Nick Perera is not only tied for second in the league in points-per-game average (3.0) but also leads Tacoma in points (9), goals (5), and assists (4). Meanwhile, 26-year-old midfielder Adrian Correa has made his fifth season with the club a special one thus far, as he is second on the team in points-per-game average (2.5), tied for second with Alessandro Canale in both points (5 each) and goals (3 each), and tied for second in assists with Canale and Jamael Cox (2 each).
Strykers attacker Stinson, who has been with the club since 2019 and is no stranger to facing off with the Stars, seemed eager for the the upcoming clash at Ontario’s Toyota Arena.
“The next game is always the biggest game for us,” said the St. Louis native. “I’ve played against Tacoma a bunch of times, and I know a lot of their players and their strengths and weaknesses. Having a young team will make it tough because a lot of their guys have been around for a while, but having watched film on Tacoma and having trained well should help us. We can’t wait for Thursday.”
The Empire Strykers take on the visiting Tacoma Stars on December 28 at 7:05 p.m. PT. Tickets to the crucial contest are $10 regardless of seat and are available here.