The Mississauga MetroStars, the newest Major Arena Soccer League (MASL) club, have had a tough start to their inaugural campaign. Exactly one third of the way through the season, they have a 2-6 record, leaving them in 3rd place in the Eastern division, ahead of the Harrisburg Heat, who have a 1-6 record but a game in hand.
A 2-6 record is a tough way to start any season, let alone your first season ever, but as head coach Phil Ionadi suggests, the MetroStars could have had a much better record by this point.
“We could be 4-4 right now,” Ionadi explained after the MetroStars’ late collapse against Utica City FC on January 11th. “Look at Orlando, we would love to get that game back because we started slowly and I think if we had a chance to play them again, the result would be different.”
“You look at Baltimore”, Ionadi continued. “We were up with five minutes left and we scored in our own net and they beat us in overtime. Then you look at tonight. Instead of being 2-6 we could have easily had three wins and be 5-3, or 4-4 at worst. It’s a tough pill to swallow but the guys have to fight.”
The aforementioned game against Utica City FC is a perfect example of the missed opportunities that Ionadi was talking about. After dominating for large parts of the match against a very strong Utica side, the MetroStars were rewarded with a very late goal, a perfectly placed shot by Halburto Harris with just 47 seconds left. Just when it seemed as though Mississauga were going to earn their third-ever victory, Utica stunned the crowd with two goals in 26 seconds, stealing the victory.
The late collapse in the 4th quarter wasn’t the first time the MetroStars had surrendered a late goal in that game either. Right at the end of the first half, with two seconds left before the buzzer, Utica scored to tie it up 2-2. Had that goal been stopped, a lead into halftime might have supplied the confidence boost that the team needed to push for the victory.
“It felt like they just wanted it a little bit more,” said Sebastian Zeballos, the starting goalkeeper for Mississauga on the night. “We scored the goal and we were there, but the game doesn’t stop until the ref blows the whistle. We can’t stop focusing.”
The MetroStars have, however, been improving on both ends of the pitch since the beginning of the season.
As nearly every player on the team had little or no arena soccer experience before the season started, there were a lot of players that looked stiff/ awkward on the pitch.
They looked scared to try maneuvers that more experienced players were doing, such as kicking the balls off the wall instead of direct passes along the ground like they're used to. That has changed in recent matches, and the MetroStars have taken advantage of some opportunities that they might have hesitated on earlier in the season. A prime example of this is this goal scored by Josip Keran on Friday.
Another issue that Phil Ionadi stressed earlier in the season was the length of shifts that the players were taking. Instead of the 2-3 minute shifts that are common among arena players, Mississauga players were taking shifts for as long as 5-6 minutes, leaving them physically and mentally drained. Recently, they have adjusted to the shorter shifts, and have looked more dynamic.
Offensively, the MetroStars have been solid as well. Led primarily by Dwayne De Rosario (7 goals, 7 assists) and Mo Babouli (7 goals, 5 assists), Mississauga have scored 44 goals in 8 games. Damion Graham leads the team in scoring percentage, having scored 6 goals on 11 shots, thanks to a hat trick in Orlando and a four game scoring streak that was snapped against Utica.
The MetroStars are on the right track to being successful in the league, it’s now time for them to live up to their potential and turn their season around.
The MetroStars aren't helped by the fact that they will spend over a month on the road, with their next four games taking place away from the Paramount Fine Foods Centre.
To make matters worse, the four teams they play are the three-time reigning champion Baltimore Blast, the Milwaukee Wave, the Kansas City Comets and Utica City FC. All of those teams have already come to Mississauga and left with the victory, and the Blast have already beaten Mississauga twice.
The MetroStars' four-game road trip starts on Sunday, January 20th at 2 p.m. when they’re in Baltimore to take on the Blast. Their next home game is on Friday, February 15th when they take on those same Baltimore Blast.