Strykers Head to San Diego for Rivalry Clash Sunday

by Gunnar Berndt

Defender Alewine: Will “focus on playing for the fans, showing we can compete”

Ontario, Calif. — With the Empire Strykers officially eliminated from Major Arena Soccer League (MASL) postseason contention, the focus this week remains on preparing Head Coach Paul Wright’s young squad for a successful 2024-25 campaign. While Marco Fabián bagged a hat-trick and ‘keeper Brian Orozco enjoyed a standout shift in Tuesday’s meeting with the visiting Chihuahua Savage, Empire’s 4-6 loss saw the Tacoma Stars clinch the final Western Conference playoff berth. In their upcoming clash with hosts San Diego Sockers, the Strykers will look for continued growth and a morale-boosting win over their long-time rivals.

Fabián, Orozco, and company travel to San Diego on Sunday, March 10 at 5:05 p.m. PT. 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 ( and A complete channel guide for upcoming MASL games is at Tickets to the Strykers’ March 17 home game against the Sockers are available at

The 3-15-1 (wins-losses-overtime/shootout losses) Strykers put in another promising effort against the Savage, only to suffer one of many narrow defeats this season. While Fabián’s three goals meant that the 34-year-old has now scored in each of his 16 MASL games since arriving in early December, 22-year-old backstop Orozco impressed with 15 saves and a .750 save percentage. While Orozco produced several spectacular blocks on the night, the Empire team on the whole displayed solid defensive discipline against one of the top sides in the league.

Immediately after the final whistle, Mexican star Fabián struggled to hide his disappointment, with the Strykers having come close to victory for the third time in their four most recent encounters.

Said Fabián, “Sometimes, [I] don’t have the [exact] words to describe how I feel, because even if I still score goals, we don’t win. It’s the only thing that I want. I want to win. It’s the same game. We are close. We had a good game, actually. We compete with the best teams. I think it’s one of the best teams of the league. But we still lost. I don’t know what I can say. I have to still fight for the next game and just finish good this season.”

With the benefit of a day’s hindsight, defender Mo Alewine offered his perspective on the loss to the defending MASL champion.

“It’s another one where we’re close but end up frustrated because we have nothing to show for it,” he said. “We’re getting more secure in the back and staying with our marks. When we win the ball, we’re doing a better job of creating options for an outlet pass. We still had a couple of mistakes, which made it a bit more of an uphill battle. I’m happy we’re improving, but at a certain point you’ve got to get the result, especially when Marco is giving us goals and we’re playing better defensively. We’ve got to finish off more of our transition plays so those missed chances don’t come back to bite us.”

While Empire has dropped seven straight, four of the defeats came by two goals or less. With the Strykers sitting in fifth place in the Western Conference, getting a victory in Sunday’s meeting with San Diego would go a long way toward keeping bottom-dwelling Dallas at bay. While the Sidekicks are five points behind, they have two games in hand on their foes from Southern California.

Having recently loaned two of their most productive players to Tacoma in Justin Stinson and Stefan Mijatovic, Empire has seen several up-and-comers take the spotlight with expanded contributions.

Among the remaining Strykers, club icon Israel Sesay has the most blocked opposition shots (20), ahead of fellow defender Momo Gueye (17). Meanwhile, Fabián is his side’s attacking engine. The two-time FIFA World Cup veteran is tied for second league-wide in goals (26) and power play goals (5), tied for third in points (38), and tied for fourth in points-per-game average (2.4 in 16 games). Alan Perez is runner-up on Empire in points (17) and points-per-game average (0.9 in 18 games), in addition to jointly ranking second in goals with Gerardo Jurado (8 each). Gueye has the second-most assists on the team (10).

In rival San Diego, the Strykers face one of the traditional powerhouses of the MASL. Having lifted the 2021-22 Ron Newman Cup trophy, the Sockers played an excellent 2022-23 regular season and entered the playoffs atop the West, boasting a 22-2-0 record, Head Coach Phil Salvagio’s men then lost a dramatic knockout series to eventual champion Chihuahua. Once again headed to the playoffs this time around, 15-4-0 San Diego remains atop the West despite its form trending down over the course of the past three weeks, with injuries having taken a heavy toll.

Ever since needing a shootout to emerge victorious at Empire, the Sockers have dropped two of three, most recently defeating the Strykers 8-4 at home and falling 4-5 to the visiting Chihuahua Savage. The Savage now has a realistic chance of stealing first place down the stretch, trailing San Diego by eight points with a game in hand. Empire has lost its previous three meetings with the Sockers this season, two of them on the road and one at Ontario’s Toyota Arena.

“Even with a shorter squad, they show their experience against us,” offered Strykers defender Alewine. “All their movements feel designed to lure us out of certain spaces and open up passing lanes. They force our attackers to defend, and they track our defenders when they try to push forward. From pulling guys out of position to playing quick one-two passes, they know all the tools of the indoor game. It’s important to stay with our marks and try to get open when we’re in possession. If we can use our athleticism and get a couple of goals in transition, we’re capable of earning a much closer result than we had at San Diego.”

The Sockers attack is jointly led by Tavoy Morgan and Brandon Escoto. Morgan is fifth in the league in points (37), sixth in points-per-game average (2.2 in 17 games), and tied for third in assists (18), with Escoto sitting tied for fourth in goals (24), tied for sixth in points (36), and tied for ninth in points-per-game average (2.0 in 18 games). The duo’s teammate and ex-Empire ace Charlie Gonzalez is tied for tenth in assists (14) and tied for eighth in power play goals (3), San Diego legend Kraig Chiles (4) ranking tied for fifth in the latter category. Morgan and Chiles are tied for second on the team in goals (19).

Cesar Cerda is tied for the MASL lead in short-handed goals (2). While fellow veteran defender Guerrero Pino is tops among all Sockers players in blocked opposition shots (31), Mitchell Cardenas (25) is a strong runner-up.

Despite his team being out of the running for a playoff spot, Empire’s Alewine found plenty of reason to be motivated for the clash with rival San Diego. The 27-year-old’s team underwent a radical offseason roster overhaul geared toward long-term success, as numerous prospects from the outdoor game were brought in at the expense of established veterans. Alewine himself made the transition from grass to turf when he joined in early January of this year.

“It’s like we’re in an early preseason,” offered the area native. “The talk in the locker room has been about needing wins to stay alive. Now that the pressure is off, we can focus on playing for the fans and showing we can compete. We gave one of the top teams, Chihuahua, a real game. Little details made the difference, which is another good learning experience. We need to keep the ball more, convert our chances, and become even more intentional with finding our target players. We’re working on those things now so we can be ready for next season.”

The Empire Strykers travel to San Diego this coming Sunday, March 10, followed by a home game against the Sockers the following Sunday, March 17. Tickets to the match at Toyota Arena in Ontario are available at