1. What’s Happening?
The Milwaukee Wave will host Mexico’s Monterrey Flash this Sunday at 6 PM Eastern in the Major Arena Soccer League final. But with MLS starting, the European season ending, and with new streaming services offering games from almost all 211 FIFA member nations, it’s easy to overlook the indoor game. Is it worth your time? If you’re down for an unapologetically Americanized action-packed spin on soccer, then yes. And that’s even with Landon Donovan’s San Diego Sockers missing out on the final.
Yes, that Landon Donovan. The greatest player in American soccer history borrowed a move from fellow bald eagle Michael Jordan by unretiring once again. The California-bred golden star, a 6-time MLS Cup winner with the San Jose Earthquakes and the Los Angeles Galaxy, spent this spring with a little further down the coast with the MASL’s San Diego Sockers.
He scored five goals in eight games with the club this season but didn’t dazzle in the playoffs. He took five shots, but couldn’t muster a goal or an assist, in San Diego’s overtime semifinal loss at home to Monterrey last weekend.
Monterrey’s fast and furious golden goal from that match is emblematic of indoor soccer’s end-to-end action. Early into OT, Monterrey’s Miguel Vaca’s right side strike from about 15 yards out pings off the keeper’s right post. San Diego defender Guerrero Pino cleverly fires the rebound backward off the boards. It lands in midfield, where San Diego’s Brandon Escoto collects it and dribbles down the right flank. Escoto, despite two Monterrey defenders draped all over him, manages to strike the ball off the boards for teammate Brian Farber to run onto. But Monterrey keeper Diego Reynoso intercepts the carom and suddenly, before the 4,000 in attendance can even finish gasping, the counterattack’s on. With two quick passes we’re right back where we started with the ball at Miguel Vaca’s feet about 15 yards out from goal. The postman always rings twice as Vaca’s shot once again whacks the woodwork. But, this time it deflects generously off the crossbar and into the goal – sending Monterrey into the final against Milwaukee and Donovan possibly back into retirement. And the entire sequence only took about 22 seconds.
Of course, such rapid reversals happen in the outdoor game too. But this kind of sequence is far more common in the indoor game. That’s part of its unique charm, it’s like watching a player like Kevin Durant dominate college ball at Texas or watching an AND1 mixtape instead of an NBA game. It’s not a replacement for the real thing but rather a refreshing compliment to it.
Indoor players can channel their inner Wilfried Zaha, Mohamed Salah, or Eden Hazard as they have the freedom to aggressively attack defenses with dazzling dribbles again and again. With fewer defenders on a small pitch it only takes a few quick passes to end up in front of the opposition’s goal. Players don’t even have to wait for service from their teammates, they can slip by defenders alone by using the boards as a “partner” for a 1-2.
As Donovan explained to ESPN when he joined MASL in January, “I’ve loved this game growing up, this indoor game…It’s not what people expect when they think of soccer, but this is an entertaining, fun game.”
2. What’s the MASL?
The MASL, founded in 2014, has shown encouraging signs of stability in a sport that rivals lacrosse and spring gridiron football for the amount of leagues that have folded. While the MASL may be relatively new, team names like the Kansas City Comets, the Milwaukee Wave, the Baltimore Blast, the Tacoma Stars, the Dallas Sidekicks, and the San Diego Sockers harken back to the sport’s 1980s heyday. Other clubs like the Mississauga MetroStars, Utica City FC, Turlock Express, and the Ontario Fury bring the beautiful game to places that require a little digging on Google Maps.
But, as Donovan told ESPNFC when he joined MASL in January, “[t]here are so many little pockets of the country that love soccer and don’t have the opportunity to have an MLS team, or even a USL team…It’s awesome to be able to give that to this community. It’s awesome — and it’s not all because of me — to put 8,000 people in the stands to give these guys the opportunity to play in front of that…All of that I think helps soccer get better.”
3. Where can you watch the MASL?
On the one hand, streaming sites like YouTube and Twitch are a real blessing for niche leagues like the MASL. They can make their games easily and freely available directly to the public when a broadcast or cable network has no room for them. On the other hand, exposure on a network like ESPN, which used to stream MASL games, is crucial for exposing games to a bigger audience.
MASL’s audiences on YouTube are modest. The epic San Diego–Monterrey semifinal has about 2,300 views and most matches clock in around the low-to-mid four figures. Last year’s MASL Final, which saw the Baltimore Blast beat Monterrey, has about 15,000 views. One of the most popular MASL clips on YouTube, with about 122,000 views, features a younger and startlingly skinner Giannis Antetokounmpo scoring from midfield in a 2014 stunt at a Milwaukee game.
This Sunday’s Ron Newman Cup Final promises to be a must watch on Milwaukee’s distinctive black turf. Monterrey features scoring sensation Frank “King” Tayou. He copped Monterrey’s opener against San Diego in the semi after leading the league with 50 goals in 24 games in the regular season. Right behind him on the leaderboard was Milwaukee’s Ian Bennett with 47 goals in 21 games. Bennett scored a sensational game winner in the Wave’s semifinal against three-time defending champion Baltimore. So it should be a dream final in the Cream City.