On Friday, February 24, the Tacoma Stars (10-8) played host to the Chicago Mustangs (9-8) in what surely needed to be a win for the home side. Tacoma had high hopes entering the match. A win paired with an Ontario Fury loss would see the Stars into the MASL playoffs.
Both sides had early chances, but it was Chicago with the better finishing. Their three goals in the first 11 minutes saw the Stars in a hole they would struggle to claw their way out of. The match ended in a 9-6 loss for the Stars.
Chicago forward Taylor Bond struck twice in the first frame. 24 seconds into the second quarter, Bond would strike again to round out a natural hat trick in 15:24. Not even a full two minutes later, Chicago increased their advantage, making it 5-0.
The Stars found a lifeline in Jamael Cox, as he scored off of a Alex Megson assist. That constituted Jamael’s eighth goal of the season. Megson added to his team-leading assist total, bringing him up to 15.
The Stars started to roll, and reacquired forward Ty Hall got his first goal back with the team thanks to Dan Antoniuk. A clever pass from the veteran forward saw him credited with his 13th assist on the season.
Tacoma drew closer thanks to Joseph Cairel. He combined with Megson and blasted it past the Chicago goalkeeper. The goal was Cairel’s eighth of the season, and assist 16 for Megson. The scoreline now 5-3, Tacoma could have put it all on Chicago with a fourth but the Mustangs added to their lead minutes before the halftime break.
Darren Sawatzky rallied his troops, and Tacoma came out of the break clicking, but the Mustangs were up to the test. Bond notched his fourth goal of the game. Alexis Camarena slotted home his second of the game, making it 8-3. After nearly ten minutes of scoreless action in the fourth quarter, Camarena would get a third.
Down six goals, Tacoma took drastic action, pulling keeper Danny Waltman for an extra attacker. Joey Gjertsen would get Tacoma’s fourth goal. It was an unassisted effort, Gjertsen’s ninth of the season.
Defenders Chase Hansen and Evan McNeley would combine to make it a five-goal game, as McNeley provided his sixth assist of the season for Hansen’s third goal. Tacoma would get one last effort in as Antoniuk slotted home a Mike Ramos pass — assist number 11 for Ramos and goal 13 for Antoniuk. Time ran out on the Stars, and with a 9-6 final score, the Stars fell to 10-9 on the season. The loss guaranteed Tacoma would not clinch a playoff spot that night.
In the playoff race, Tacoma got no help over the weekend as the Ontario Fury won all three of their matches. Seemingly playing into Tacoma’s hands, Ontario traveled to face the El Paso squad without a win (0-19) on Friday night, then spent Saturday in Dallas against the 7-13 Sidekicks. They rounded out their road trip with a flight to Chicago to face the same Mustangs side.
Three games in three nights would seem to help the Stars, but Ontario figured out a way to win all three games. With playoff spots on the line, if Ontario defeats the 8-11 Turlock Express, the Fury will advance no matter what Tacoma does. If the Fury lose and Stars win on Saturday, both squads will be at 11-9. Tacoma holds the first tiebreaker in head-to-head wins with a 2-1 advantage. San Diego (13-6) won the regular season Pacific Division title with the results this weekend.
If Tacoma wins and makes the playoffs, their first match of the Major Arena Soccer league Pacific Divisional Round will be played on Thursday, March 9 at 7:05 p.m., with game two being played on Sunday, March 12 at 5:05 p.m. (Times are Pacific.)
Looking ahead to the Stars’ next match, in what could be the last game of their season, Tacoma will face longtime rivals San Diego. San Diego won both of the matches they hosted. Tacoma won the only meeting in Kent with an 8-7 scoreline on December 18.
The players would love to have a packed house Saturday for what could be a defining moment in the season. Match will kickoff at 6:05 p.m. at the Kent ShoWare Center. Hope to see you there and in the playoffs. Go Stars Go!