This weekend’s visit (Friday February 4 and Saturday February 5, kickoffs at 7:30 PM) to the Tacoma Stars by the San Diego Sockers doesn’t need to rely on the nostalgia of the ‘good old days’ of the MISL when the two sides battled up and down the west coast. (Tickets for weekend series at the Tacoma Soccer Center)
The two-day series means much in the here and now, with the Sockers leading the Western Division with a 9-2 record. Tacoma is in second place at 8-4. To add to the drama, Saturday night’s match also doubles as a semifinal in the US Arena Soccer Open Cup. The winner will move on to host the championship final.
“It’s going to be great,” says Stars midfielder Micah Wenzel. “Our crowd should provide an awesome atmosphere as they have all year long. We’ve been trying to hype these two games for a while and have had them circled on our calendar from the beginning of the year.” The series is also a match-up of last year’s PASL-Pro Champions (Sockers) and PASL-Premier Champions (Stars).
The Stars visited San Diego earlier in the season (see video at left) and fell by a score of 8:6. “We came out rather slow in San Diego and in reviewing the tape we didn’t seem like we “got up” for the game like we should have,” Wenzel says. “Although we fought hard to make it a game, trailing and chasing the game from the start made this a daunting task.”
The Stars hope and believe they are a better team now than the one the Sockers beat in Tacoma’s second match of the season last November. “We’ve been progressively playing better ball from the beginnning of the season and as a group I think we’ve gelled significantly compared to the start of the year. Although we’ve had a large core group returning form last year’s successful team, there are a lot of newcomers who have added to the depth and talent of our roster to ensure we can compete at the higher professional level. All these guys have acclimated to the team very well. A few to note are Todd Stauber, Ian Weinberg, Brayton Knapp, and Daniel Gray. They are a few new guys who have been impact players in big games for us this season.”
Wenzel is a returner from the 2009-10 PASL Premier National Championship season. He’s doing well at the higher level. “I’ve had a pretty successful season so far,” he decides. “Think I’ve notched 8 goals and 10 assists or something in that region. This year has been about refining my game. Learning the different patterns, learning to be patient in getting forward. The timing of my runs has been huge, not just for me but for most of the guys on the team. Being in the right spot at the right time is crucial as the level of competition has been raised along with our standards.”
Now the ball is at Stars’ head coach Greg Howes’ feet. Howes will decide the thirteen eligible players for each night against the Sockers. Wenzel knows the choices will be tough, but he also knows the Stars have plenty of talent. “It’s hard to say at this point because we have so many different guys that can play different spots,” he says of the roster choices for the matches. “Obviously, the roster is something Greg is going to invest deep consideration into as he wants to have the best chance for a positive result against a good opponent on the weekend.” Stars players are used to the challenges leading up to Howes’ decisions. “Every week at practice is a battle for me and for the majority of the team. We push each other to be better and I think this has been reflected with our progression through the course of the year.”.
The back-to-back nights could have a say in who plays for both sides. “I’m not sure if he’s (Howes) going to change the roster up much from Friday to Saturday. I think it depends on how Friday goes first of all and how people are feeling before Saturday’s game. If legs are gone, I’d imagine him bringing in a few new guys. But if we do well on Friday and everyone is feeling alright, I can’t imagine him changing much at all. Bringing in new guys for Saturday’s game isn’t going to change the game plan at all and with our deep roster it shouldn’t hurt the team performance one bit.”
Weekend Preview release from Tacoma Stars: San Diego Game Preview
The Tacoma Stars play host to long time west coast rival San Diego Sockers this weekend in a crucial back to back match-up. The Stars (8-4) have been playing catch up all year to the Sockers (9-2) who handed Tacoma an 8-6 loss is San Diego in November. With playoff and US Open Cup implications this weekend, both teams will be determined to put their stamp on the Western Division.
February 4th & 5th – 7:30PM Tacoma Soccer Center
With the Western Division title still up for grabs the Stars will have to double up on the Sockers to knock off the defending champs. The Sockers come to town following a big win vs Tijuana. The Sockers are looking to clinch the Western Division crown and a playoff berth. Stars Coach Greg Howes : “Whenever you play meaningful games late in the season you know you are in the playoff hunt. To have the defending champions coming to Tacoma with playoff and Open Cup spots at stake it basically sets up as a playoff game. We respect SD and know that if we play our game and stick to the game plan that visiting teams have to play well to get results here.”
The Stars are looking to gain ground on the league leaders over the weekend. In order to achieve this the Stars are going to have to slow down the potent SD offense led by forwards Kraig Chiles (20G-11A-31PTS), Aaron Susi (10G-8A-18pts) and midfielder Paul Wright (9G-12A-21 PTS). Containing these players will be difficult, as the rest of San Diego team is capable of picking up the slack. Putting up points will be crucial in Tacoma’s effort, and getting past the SD defense and goal keeper Riley Swift is no easy task.
Tacoma is led by player/coach Howes (18G-15A-33PTS) and forward Ian Wienberg (29 Pts) and will need a contribution from everyone if they want to knock off the first place Sockers. Howes said “ I think it will come down to goals in the box and which goalkeeper makes big saves to keep his team in the game. We know the challenge ahead of us and we are looking forward to the opportunity.”