It’s once again time to head indoors for the winter, with the Dallas Sidekicks set to return for their fifth season in the Major Arena Soccer League. This time they’ll have a new local rival in the Mesquite Outlaws, and will play in a consolidated and expanded 8-team Western Conference.
Here’s a rundown of everything you’ll need to know before the Sidekicks season kicks off later this month.
The Major Arena Soccer League is the top-level of indoor/arena soccer in the USA, Mexico, and Canada. It currently features 18 teams for the upcoming season, with 2 in Mexico, 1 in Canada, and 15 around the States. The league was formed in a merger of the previous Professional Arena Soccer League and Major Indoor Soccer League in the summer of 2014. The league is generally semi-pro, with some players paid wages comparable to or above those in USL, while others are unpaid.
If you’re new to indoor soccer, it’s amazing. Take a hockey rink, boards, glass, penalty boxes, and all, throw down some turf over the ice, and stick goals in the back wall behind where hockey goals would normally stand. Each team uses five players plus a goalkeeper, with rules and a penalty system that’s a hybrid of hockey and soccer.
There are tap-ins from the sidelines, corner kicks, goal kicks, free kicks, and penalty kicks, with blue cards for 2-minute penalties, where a team must play shorthanded, 5-minute yellow card penalties, and red cards for ejection.
Each game comprises four 15-minute periods, and in the cases of games that end tied, go immediately to overtime. Each team plays a 24-game season, though won’t play every team in the opposite conference each season.
The Sidekicks returned from a one-year hiatus last fall, bringing back many of the same players and staff from the 2016-2017 season including Head Coach/General Manager/Co-Owner Simon Bozas, who led the team to their best record yet in his four seasons at the helm. That said, they finished 9-15, 3rd in the Southwest Division, and out of the playoffs once again.
Starting the season with a 3-game road trip, the Sidekicks played their home opener already sitting 1-2, and rallied to a respectable, if underwhelming 5-7 record at midseason, thanks mainly to four wins against El Paso. The Kicks then finished the second half of the season winning just four times, with a five-game losing streak in March, finishing well behind 2nd place Rio Grande Valley.
The Sidekicks were marginally better at home, with 5 wins to 4 on the road, but had few answers for San Diego, Monterrey, and Tacoma, winning just twice in 12 games against the three.
VcMor Eligwe led the scoring for the Sidekicks with 27 goals and 8 assists, followed closely by local legend Jamie Lovegrove’s 24 goals and 8 assists. Cameron Brown posted 15 goals and 10 assists of his own, with Cody Ellis and Nestor Hernandez both reaching double-digit goals with 10 and 11 respectively. Ricardinho Cavalcante was the assist king for the team, with 20 assists in just 21 games. From there, production dropped off dramatically, with the rest of the roster combined managing only 28 total goals.
In goal, Juan Gamboa led a keeper tandem alongside Fernando Cortes, with Gamboa in net for 7 of the team’s 9 wins. Gamboa also led the team in save percentage, at .645, and GAA, with 6.85, good, but not great, though more on a leaky defense than any issues of their own.
Unfortunately, five of the team’s best and most consistent players have departed ahead of the upcoming season; with VcMor Eligwe, Jamie Lovegrove, and Cody Ellis all joining the Mesquite Outlaws under Tatu; Nestor Hernandez joined the Ontario Fury; and Ricardinho retiring at the end of the previous season.
Juan Gamboa, Cameron Brown and Ray Aguayo remain the only regular starters to return, joined by a long list of new and familiar names. Most of the recent signings have ties either to local youth or lower division sides, with the exception of Freddy Moojen, a veteran of the league who also previously played in the NASL.
Moojen stands out as the most significant new signing, having scored 12 goals with 11 assists in the MASL last season. This will be his second stint with the Kicks, having played for them in 2014-15.
Ex-FC Dallas and SMU midfielder Bruno Guarda has also signed with the Sidekicks.
The Sidekicks begin the season on Saturday, November 30, with a three-game road trip, before playing their home opener on Saturday, December 14. That kicks off a four-game home series to close out 2019, with the first game of 2020 taking place on Friday, January 3 in Mesquite.
The home schedule for the Sidekicks concludes on Sunday, March 8 against Turlock. They will then wrap up the regular season with road trips to Utica and Harrisburg on March 14 and 15.
This season, the Sidekicks will play Mesquite 4 times, twice each at home and on the road, Monterrey 6 times, three at home and three on the road, and Turlock 3 times, once at home and twice on the road. The Kicks will play once in Ontario and twice in Sonora and will host Tacoma twice and San Diego once.
In intra-conference play, the Sidekicks have a home-and-away series with Utica, will host Florida and Kansas City and will travel to Harrisburg, meaning the Sidekicks will play 11 of the league’s 17 other teams.
To put it bluntly, this team is going to look radically different, with few proven names from the indoor game. Mesquite’s hiring of Tatu has already seen a number of players – who he previously coached at Dallas – join the new team, and it’s not a stretch to say Mesquite looks by far the stronger side, at least on paper.
Mesquite’s lineup looks more like the last Sidekicks team to make the playoffs than the current Sidekicks team does, and the Kicks still haven’t played a playoff game since Tatu was in charge. This also means that the local rivalry has a high likelihood of getting very real, very fast, pitting former teammates against each other.
The Kicks also had few answers for Monterrey, San Diego, and Tacoma last season, and all three of those teams have gotten stronger. They’ll also have to deal with a returning Soles de Sonora, who swept the Sidekicks in the 2016-2017 season.
I’m not particularly confident of their chances this season as of yet, as while the team did win both of their preseason games over the weekend, these were against decidedly lower-level opposition, and were by no means convincing.
Preseason continues this Saturday, November 16, with the Sidekicks traveling to St. Louis to play the Ambush in their only preseason fixture against a MASL team. We’ll know a lot more about how the team is coming together after that.