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 Empire Strykers

Strykers Eager to "Showcase Progress" against KC, Sockers

February 26, 2024 - Major Arena Soccer League (MASL)
Empire Strykers News Release


Ontario, Calif. - The Empire Strykers coaches have been taking full advantage of nine days without any matches, pushing full steam ahead in their quest to mold the club's young roster into a contender for next season's Major Arena Soccer League (MASL) championship. Coming off an impressive performance against the visiting San Diego Sockers just over a week ago, the Strykers next take on the Kansas City Comets at home, followed by a trip down south for another clash with the mighty Sockers.

Empire hosts Kansas City at Ontario's Toyota Arena this coming Wednesday, February 28, at 7:05 p.m. PT, with tickets available here. Marco Fabián and company then hit the road on Friday, March 1, for a 7:35 p.m. PT kickoff against San Diego. Both meetings will be streamed live in English on Twitch and in Spanish on Canela. Broadcasts may be accessed via the two platforms' respective apps and websites (www.twitch.tv and www.canela.tv). A complete channel guide for upcoming MASL games is here.

Playing in front of an electric home crowd of 4,203, the Strykers came within a hair of upsetting the Sockers on February 18, fighting back from a four-goal deficit to level things at 8-8 late in the fourth period. San Diego, which got four-point performances from Brandon Escoto and Kraig Chiles, prevailed 1-0 in the shootout. Meanwhile, Empire turned heads with a spirited battle, powered in part by defender Momo Gueye's three assists. No fewer than six of Gueye's teammates bagged two points each, ex-Mexico star Fabián scoring in his 13th straight game since joining the MASL.

"It was a tough loss to swallow," said the Strykers' Riley Urie. "Once again, we fell behind by several goals early, which I believe is due to inexperience. A lot of our rookies come from traditional soccer, where opponents usually don't keep pressing after going up by one or two. We can also take positives from the game. Our camaraderie was fantastic. We did a great job of fighting back, and we're finally learning that being down by four is nothing in indoor. It's also nice to see more of our guys chipping in goals. Taking one point was a step in the right direction."

In addition to a helper, Urie had a tally that was as memorable as it was crucial. With Empire trailing 6-8 in the final quarter, the first-year midfielder exploded past several Sockers players and fired home for a stunning individual effort that got his side to within one. For the 23-year-old Urie, it marked the culmination of many extra hours of work put in since his selection as part of last fall's MASL Combine Draft. While being eased into the indoor game by the Strykers technical staff, the former outdoor prospect has been known to frequently put in additional shifts after practice to accelerate his transition to the turf.

"I've always felt capable of that type of play," said Urie in reflecting on his spectacular netter. "Coach Wright has always seen it too. He's been telling me that he sees a lot of himself in me. After the draft, there was a lot of expectation, and it wasn't easy living up to that with our tough schedule early on. The first two games were a letdown, which gave me that hunger to make the coach proud. It's been a progression since, and I was waiting for a special goal to showcase my skills and get into a groove. I believe I can have goals like that in every game and really help the team in big moments."

While Stefan Mijatovic and Israel Sesay have the most blocked opposition shots on the Strykers (22 and 16, respectively), Marco Fabián remains his side's undisputed attacking leader. A 2012 Olympic gold medalist and two-time FIFA World Cup veteran, the ex-El Tri star sits tied for second league-wide in both points-per-game average (2.4 in 13 games) and power play goals (5) as well as tied for fourth in both goals (20) and points (31). While Fabián, Mijatovic, and Justin Stinson jointly lead their team in assists (11 each), Stinson ranks second on Empire in points-per-game average (1.7 in 15 games), goals (14), and points (25).

With the 3-12-1 (wins-losses-overtime/shootout losses) Strykers nearing elimination from playoff contention, the upcoming pair of meetings present an opportunity to keep building toward the future. After consecutive postseason absences and a radical roster overhaul, the Western Conference outfit finds itself just below the line in fifth but trailing fourth-place Tacoma by 13 points and having played one more game than the Stars. While Empire has two games in hand on third-place Texas, the Outlaws boast an 18-point advantage.

Prior to their formidable rally against San Diego, the Strykers fell 2-7 away to Wednesday's adversary, Kansas City. With the February 10 victory, the Comets snapped an eight-game losing streak courtesy of a comprehensive team performance and the outstanding play of ex-Empire defender Robert "Beto" Palmer and 'keeper Nicolau Neto. While Neto finished with 15 saves and an impressive .882 save percentage, Empire backstop Brian Orozco enjoyed a strong shift of his own, putting up 14 saves and a .778 percentage. The match in Independence, Missouri was the visitors' second of two away contests in as many days.

"We played a pretty good game," remembered midfielder Riley. "It came down to mental fatigue. If we had kept our composure and finished off some plays, we would have been fine. I remember we took a lot of shots from far, which doesn't work because Neto is tall and has great reach. Beto Palmer was excellent, but I believe there are areas of their defense we can exploit. We need to keep shooting but get closer to the net and maybe send some balls off the boards. When we're at our best, I don't think many teams can match up with how fast, athletic, and skilled we are. I want us to score a lot of goals in front of our home fans."

It won't be an easy task, as the Comets have been hitting their stride defensively of late. The 7-2 win over the visiting Strykers was followed by a 2-3 home overtime loss to defending champion Chihuahua Savage and a 9-4 win at San Diego this past Sunday that has put the league on notice. Having made the postseason three consecutive times, Kansas City currently sits just inside the Eastern Conference playoff picture at 9-6-4. Head Coach Stefan Stokic's fourth-place squad will draw little comfort from its eight-point cushion over fifth-place Baltimore, given the Blast has four games in hand.

Comets netminder Neto is tied for the fourth-most wins among all MASL 'keepers while also boasting the third-most saves (181) along with the fourth-best goals-against average (4.64) and save percentage (.745). Club icon Palmer (62) and teammate Chad Vandergriffe (45) rank first and third in in blocked opposition shots, respectively. In addition to Jamaican-born Palmer, the Kansas City backline features another former member of the Strykers organization in DeBray Hollimon.

The Comets are led offensively by the experienced Zach Reget, who is second league-wide in goals (24), third in points (32), tied for tenth in points-per-game average (2.0 in 16 games), and tied for second in game-winning goals (3). Reget's teammates John Sosa (17) and Ignacio Flores (5) sit second in assists and power play goals, respectively. While Sosa is runner-up on Kansas City in points (25) and points-per-game average (1.6 in 16 games), Flores ranks second in goals (11) and assists (12).

Meanwhile, the Sockers are one of the giants of the MASL. After lifting the 2021-22 Ron Newman Cup trophy, San Diego played an excellent 2022-23 regular season. Entering the playoffs atop the West and with a 22-2-0 record, Head Coach Phil Salvagio's men lost a dramatic knockout series to eventual champion Chihuahua, falling in overtime of the decisive game. Following its recent home defeat to the Comets, which was preceded by the shootout win at Empire, 14-3-0 San Diego maintains a dominant lead in the conference standings. The Sockers have won all three of their previous meetings with Empire in 2023-24.

"I feel good about the game," said Strykers midfielder Urie." It's another chance to showcase our progress and keep growing. The goal is to defend better and continue attacking at a high pace. We can't let them slow down the play. They have a lot of veterans who know how to win, but we have the edge in athleticism. If we can capitalize on our individual duels and our speed in transition, I believe we will be successful."

San Diego's Tavoy Morgan is tied for second in the league in points (33), tied for fifth in points-per-game average (2.2 in 15 games), tied for eighth in goals (19), and tied for seventh in assists along with teammate and ex-Empire ace Charlie Gonzalez (14 each). While the Sockers' Brandon Escoto ranks third in goals (21) and tied for tenth in points (30), forward Kraig Chiles sits tied for seventh in points-per-game average (2.1 in 14 games) and tied for sixth in power play goals (3). Former Strykers Leonardo DeOliveira and Gabriel Costa are jointly tied for tenth in assists (13 each). Cesar Cerda leads the MASL in short-handed goals (2).

Boris Pardo is tied for the second-most wins of all goalkeepers league-wide (9). The 39-year-old's backline is anchored by fellow veteran Guerrero Pino, who ranks tied for sixth in the MASL in blocked opposition shots (31). Pino is trailed on the Sockers by Mitchell Cardenas (23).

Empire's Riley Urie closed his remarks on an optimistic note, as he provided his assessment of the general state of his team as it embarks on the final third of the campaign.

"It's all about fixing our mental mistakes," said the Vermont native. "Once we break our habit of giving up goals in bunches, we'll be a force to reckon with. Having so many guys who can score makes it very tough to keep us in check. It's always difficult to compete for a title after a complete rebuild, but the togetherness from the San Diego game has us excited for the stretch run. A lot of the remaining games will be challenging. I like that it will prepare us for next season."

Riley Urie and the Empire Strykers host Kansas City this coming Wednesday, February 28, at 7:05 p.m. PT. Tickets to the clash at Ontario's Toyota Arena may be purchased here. Head Coach Paul Wright's men then face long-time rival San Diego away from home on Friday, March 1, at 7:35 p.m. PT.

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The opinions expressed in this release are those of the organization issuing it, and do not necessarily reflect the thoughts or opinions of OurSports Central or its staff.

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