TIJUANA, MEXICO - Last weekend, the Tacoma Stars (9-3) hit the road for two games in Mexico against Soles de Sonora (10-2) and Atletico Baja (6-7).
The Stars were riding a five-game win streak heading into competition on Saturday, January 28th against Soles de Sonora. Hungry to stretch their lead in the MASL Pacific Division, the Stars knew that this weekend of play could potentially make or break their playoff run.
The first quarter in Hermosillo, Mexico saw seven goals between the sides with Tacoma netting four. Stars captain, Joey Gjertsen struck first for the Stars with midfielder Mike Ramos credited with a beautiful assist.
Soles would score the next three, giving them a lead early, but Tacoma would close the gap with a triple of their own thanks to an unassisted Ramos effort, and a pair of unassisted strikes from Derek “El Tigre” Johnson (stretching his goal count to a team-leading fifteen on the year).
The second quarter opened with two quick strikes by Soles, but their lead would last just ten seconds as Stars midfielder Joseph Cairel connected with defender Cory Kietz for his only goal of the night. Soles would score two more before the halftime whistle, maintaining a lead that was anything but comfortable.
As the players took the pitch for the second half, Stars defender Evan McNeley narrowed the gap just :48 seconds into play. However, despite a tremendous unassisted effort this would be the Stars only tally of the third quarter.
Soles applied steady pressure adding three goals in the third, and another four in the final quarter.
With the loss imminent the Stars threw caution to the wind and produced several highlights of their own in the waning minutes.
El Tigre completed his second career hat trick for the Stars off an assist from Gjertsen. Stars defender Trevor Jensen scored unassisted, and rookie Nick Cashmere scored unassisted for his first career MASL goal; finalizing the score at 14-9 in favor of Soles.
The underlying story of the match was found in the penalty box. Tacoma allowed three power-plays on which Soles capitalized. If Tacoma could’ve avoided the “sin bin” the Stars could have kept the pressure off their defense and hindered Soles’ ability to score in bunches.
The loss would see Tacoma drop to 9-4 on the year, and even with the San Diego Sockers in the Pacific Division standings.
On Sunday, the Stars returned to the Unidad Deportiva Tijuana as Atletico Baja hosted their third meeting of the season.
After a scoreless thirteen minutes Baja scored as the first quarter waned. However, the lead was short lived as twelve seconds later Tacoma hit pay-dirt with an unassisted goal by forward Alex Megson.
Tacoma would run rampant as Mike Ramos opened the second frame with a nifty goal off an equally clever Gjertsen assist.
Atletico would follow with a goal of their own, but Joseph Cairel would net an unassisted go-ahead-goal just two minutes later. Gjertsen capitalized on a late power-play thanks to an assist from Cory Keitz.
In the final half, Atletico would score four more times securing their victory at 6-4 bringing the Stars season record to a less than dominant 9-5.
Notably, Stars goalkeeper Danny Waltman reached a season high twenty-seven saves in the match.
The Stars now continue their four game roadtrip this Friday and Saturday against the San Diego Sockers (9-4) and the Dallas Sidekicks (6-9).
The meeting with San Diego will be the third of four contests between the long-time rivals this season. The series currently stands at one a piece with both squads winning on their home pitch.
Tacoma will need to win to keep San Diego within arms reach in the Pacific Division standings. Currently a half game back with six matches to play, each game will have a significant impact on the 2016-17 MASL playoff picture.
On Saturday, the Stars will hope to brand their second win against the Dallas Sidekicks this season. Their last match on November 18th ended in a 6-5 shootout victory for the Stars.
The disappointed Sidekicks will be especially motivated against the Stars as last season they lost the season series in devastating fashion as Tacoma stole a 3-2 victory late in Dallas.
The Stars return home to the ShoWare Center in Kent on February 12th to face the St. Louis Ambush (1-14) on Military Appreciation Night. Tacoma will hope to build on the result of their last match-up which left the Stars as 5-3 victors.
The playoffs are fast approaching and there is no better time to catch all of the high intensity MASL action!
Sounder at Heart night with the Tacoma Stars is February 24th. Come enjoy 2 for 1 beers after you get a ticket and a trucker cap for just $16 dollars. More details to come soon.