Turf and Boards is back with our Second Annual MASL Forecast. We did reasonably well last year (check it out Turf and Boards Official 2017/18 MASL Forecast) and, though this year seems a little more unpredictable, the same four teams are still prohibitive favorites to win their divisions. Some of the blind spots include influxes of new-to-the-MASL players in Mississauga, Orlando, St. Louis, and El Paso, how much of an impact Pat Healey and Genoni Martinez can have coaching their new teams, and how dominant the four division winners will be (though we went 4-for-4 last year, all four teams won more games than we projected).

And now, the caveats: We have a feeling that Florida will be better than projected below, but we kind of painted ourselves into a corner and couldn’t figure out where to take wins from. Likewise, with the MASL’s abbreviated playoff format a lesser team is bound to steal one of the division series, so keep an eye on that come playoff time.

Eastern Division

Baltimore Blast
2017/18: 17-5, 1st Eastern Division, Newman Cup Champions
Major Additions: Sam Guernsey (Cedar Rapids), Jayme Kapinos (Ontario)
Major Losses: Pat Healey (retired), Nelson Santana (Harrisburg), Jonathan Greenfield (retired)
Player Worth the Price of Admission: William Vanzela, the Blast’s excitable goalkeeper was having his best season, seeing more shots than ever on the Blast’s new miniature field, but an adductor injury caused him to miss 11 games. He came back in time to clinch a third straight Blast championship even though he wasn’t 100%.
Outlook: The Blast are looking for a fourth straight championship, a feat only accomplished by the New York Arrows and San Diego Sockers (three times), but they face some uncertainty heading into the post-Healey era. GM Kevin and defender Pat Healey have joined the rival Harrisburg Heat. The Blast have never lost at SECU Arena. Baltimore has been to the finals each of the last eight years and 13 of the last 16 seasons.

Harrisburg Heat
2017/18: 6-16, 4th Eastern Division, missed playoffs
Major Additions: Daniel Villela (El Paso), Nelson Santana (Baltimore)
Major Losses: Hugo Silva (Florida), Lucio Gonzaga (Utica), Stephen Basso (injured/Rochester Lancers M2), Val Teixeira (retired)
Player Worth the Price of Admission: Thiago Freitas enters his third MASL season as the Heat’s most productive offensive player, but after him and Ricardo Carvalho it’s a steep drop off.
Outlook: GM Kevin, and Head Coach Pat, Healey stepped into a tough situation. By the time they joined the Heat, most of the roster had already been set. This season will be a good test of Talent vs. System as Pat Healey will try to make something out of a roster that is arguably worse on paper than the one that went 6-16 in Denison Cabral’s last season. The Blast are never the best team on paper either, but Danny Kelly has been able to win no matter who is on the field for Baltimore, and Pat Healey played under Kelly for the last 10 years. The biggest question the Heat face is who will be their starting goalkeeper. Untested youngster James Lepetit was the assumed replacement for Silva, but it doesn’t look like he will play this year after all, setting up an open casting call.

Mississauga MetroStars
2017/18: Expansion Team
Major Additions: Dwayne De Rosario and Adrian Cann (Toronto FC)
Major Losses: None
Player Worth the Price of Admission: De Rosario, even at 40, becomes one of the highest profile indoor players this century. The two-time MLS Cup MVP has 81 caps and a record 22 goals for Team Canada and ranks 9th in MLS history in goals scored.
Outlook: Based on one game, an international exhibition game between Canada and the Baltimore Blast in August, the MetroStars are going to be very competitive and Luis Rocha is going to be Rookie of the Year. That’s not a lot to go on, but Mississauga should be above average as far as most expansion teams go.

Utica City FC
2017/18: 13-9, 2nd Eastern Division, lost Division Finals (as Syracuse Silver Knights)
Major Additions: Mohamed Kenawy (Cedar Rapids), Andre Braithwaite (Kansas City), Stephen DeRoux (Baltimore Blast), Mauricio Salles (Florida), Lucio Gonzaga (Harrisburg)
Major Losses: Jake Schindler (Rochester M2)
Player Worth the Price of Admission: Joey Tavernese – Tavernese contemplated retirement just as he’s hitting his prime. The 29-year old has a nose for the goal and also had a career-high 26 assists last year.
Outlook: The new ownership that moved the team from Syracuse to Utica wasn’t aggressive in free agency, so the team will need young players like Ben Ramin, Liam Callahan, and Logan Roberts to fill the gap between them and Baltimore. Andrew Coughlin started all 22 games last year in the nets. Kenawy didn’t have a huge rookie year, but still has a lot of upside at 22 years old. Thanks to the MASL’s new later schedule it looks like City has lost key playmaker Kenardo Forbes to the USL Championship’s Pittsburgh Riverhounds. 40-year old Salles will pick up some of the scoring slack, and 38-year old Gonzaga will try to keep the ball moving the way Forbes did.

South Central Division

Florida Tropics
2017/18: 10-12, 3rd Eastern Division, missed playoffs
Major Additions: Hugo Silva (Harrisburg), Max Touloute (San Diego)
Major Losses: Piotr Sliwa (Orlando), Mauricio Salles (Utica)
Player Worth the Price of Admission: Ricardo Diegues busted out last year with a career-high 26 goals and 44 points and is just entering his prime at 28 years old.
Outlook: Florida enters their third MASL season and first in the South Central Division after two years in the Eastern Division. Hugo Silva and Max Touloute could arguably be an upgrade over Piotr Sliwa and Mauricio Salles, but neither acquisition will  move the needle. The Tropics faded in the second half last year, losing six of their last eight to miss the playoffs. Touloute should get a chance to be this year’s comeback kid after scoring only five points in 11 games last year.

Kansas City Comets
2017/18: 7-15, 3rd Central Division, missed playoffs
Major Additions: Ramone Palmer, Robert Palmer, and Alain Matingou (Tacoma); John Sosa (San Diego), Brett Petricek (Cedar Rapids)
Major Losses: Guerrero Pino (San Diego), Andre Braithwaite (Utica)
Player Worth the Price of Admission: Leo Gibson – Gibson is still getting it done, now entering his 9th season with the Comets, at the age of 35. After suffering through the worst season in modern Comets history and being a positive team leader, Gibson should get to enjoy a team resurgence this year.
Outlook: New ownership empowered a team reunification, bringing back four players who defected when things got rough before last season, chief among them Sosa, who is a true impact player. On the free agency market the team only, curiously, signed one new player, goalkeeper Brett Petricek, whose 1 1/2 MASL seasons presented all kinds of promise, but also a bit of drama and inconsistency. Petricek’s play will be a key to the Comets season. Having James Togbah, Anthony Grant, and Adam James for a full season will also push the Comets toward the second playoff spot in the South Central.

Milwaukee Wave
2017/18: 17-5, 1st Central Division, lost Conference Finals
Major Additions: Luan Oliveira (San Diego), Alex Bradley (Cedar Rapids)
Major Losses: Daniel Mattos (free agent)
Player Worth the Price of Admission: Ian Bennett belted out a second straight 50-goal season last year and is often good for some expressive celebrations.
Outlook: The Wave’s coronation feels almost inevitable but they have now come up short six straight years since winning their 6th championship in 2012. A midseason injury to Robert Renaud, and a late season injury to Josh Lemos might have done them in last year, but they look even stronger this year. If Renaud can regain his fitness he becomes their biggest “addition”, but Luan Oliveira is also returning to the Wave after three years in the Pacific Division. Don’t sleep on Alex Bradley, who Milwaukee signed as a free agent from Cedar Rapids. Bradley has the potential to break out this year. The Wave should be nearly unbeatable in the regular season, but the playoffs are a crap shoot.

Orlando SeaWolves
2017/18: 11-11, 2nd Central Division, lost Division Finals (as Cedar Rapids Rampage)
Major Additions: Dylan Hundelt (St. Louis), Piotr Sliwa (Florida); Lewis Neal and Luke Boden (Orlando City)
Major Losses: Alex Bradley (Milwaukee), Bobby Hurwitz (free agent), Derek Huffman (suspended), Sam Guernsey (Baltimore)
Player Worth the Price of Admission: Gordy Gurson is half showman, half irritant, and all goal scorer. Fans gravitate to his exuberance, and opposing fans love to boo him for his diving and showboating, but if there’s a game anywhere, Gordy will be there and he will probably score a couple goals.
Outlook: The SeaWolves currently have 26 players under contract and 12 of them have never played a pro arena game, so it’s a little hard to tell how the 15-man lineup will shake out each night and who will make an impact. Only eight players remain from the Cedar Rapids roster, but GM Chris Kokalis has augmented that core with MASL free agents, former MLS players, and international talent. The main question is how first-time Head Coach Tom Traxler makes Kokalis’s roster hum.

St. Louis Ambush
2017/18: 3-19, 4th Central Division, missed playoffs
Major Additions: Antonio Manfut (Rio Grande Valley)
Major Losses: Dylan Hundelt (Orlando), Pablo Da Silva (free agent)
Player Worth the Price of Admission: Player/coach Hewerton Moreira has announced that this will be his final season as a player and fans should make it a point to see him at least one time during his 15th indoor season. Hewerton is eight goals away from career goal #200 and has been a dynamic playmaker, who has a high soccer IQ and plays the game with flair.
Outlook: Even giving Hewerton the benefit of the doubt last year, we only predicted a 6-16 season for St. Louis and they failed to even reach that low bar, although they did modestly improve from one win in 2016/17 to three. Hewerton has signed a handful of Brazilians selected from an open tryout in Brazil, but the Ambush again refused to address their lack of talent through MASL free agency. The addition of Manfut is a net loss when coupled with the exits of Hundelt and Pablo. The loss of Hundelt is particularly hard because he had a breakout year and his father Kevin Hundelt was a long-time star of the Ambush and Steamers.

Southwest Division

Dallas Sidekicks
2017/18: did not play
Major Additions: Jose Burciaga, Jr. (Kansas City Wizards)
Major Losses: None
Player Worth the Price of Admission: Cameron Brown is coming back from his third ACL tear, but he already racked up four goals in two preseason games and looked much like his old self. Brown was in high demand last year while the Sidekicks were on hiatus, but didn’t feel game-ready until recently.
Outlook: Now entering their third season under Head Coach Simon Bozas, the Sidekicks are looking to improve on back-to-back 7-13 campaigns. Despite a strong nucleus in Brown, Jamie Lovegrove, Ricardinho, VcMor Eligwe, Cody Ellis, and Juan Gamboa, the Sidekicks appear to be headed for another long year.

El Paso Coyotes
2017/18: 11-11, 3rd Southwest Division, missed playoffs
Major Additions: Alex Caceres (Ontario)
Major Losses: Christian Gutierrez and Manuel Rojo (San Diego); Ernesto Luna (Turlock)
Player Worth the Price of Admission: Hugo Puentes burst onto the scene last year with 28 goals and seven assists in 20 games.
Outlook: The Coyotes have only formally announced the signing of Puentes since all of their players were declared free agents in May when they missed a payment to the league. The roster construction resembles the process that resulted in an 0-20 season in 2016/17, but they have some more experience this time around including Puentes, Omar Tapia and Caceres. Now under new ownership, the Coyotes are at least investing in their future with a new M2 team across the border in Juarez.

Monterrey Flash
2017/18: 20-2, 1st Southwest Division, lost Newman Cup Final
Major Additions: Franck Tayou, Uzi Tayou, Enrique Canez, and Daniel Lopez (Sonora)
Major Losses: Wilo Martinez (Rio Grande Valley), Victor Baez (El Paso), Juan De Dios Ibarra (free agent)
Player Worth the Price of Admission: Franck Tayou has seen his goal totals increase in each of his three MASL Most Valuable Player seasons, culminating in last year’s league record 71 markers. All eyes will be on Franck as he plays his first season in Monterrey after three seasons benefiting from Sonora’s small field and wide open style.
Outlook: The Flash had the oldest roster in the league last year, but got a youth infusion from the Sonora Soles hiatus. Monterrey put together a nearly flawless season before faltering in the final against Baltimore. The Flash allowed the third fewest goals in the MASL last season, but the additions of Tayou, Lopez, and Canez could dramatically alter the team’s approach. Barring some unforeseeable calamity, Monterrey will win the division by several games, but then it’s anyone’s game when playoff time comes.

Rio Grande Valley Barracudas
2017/18: 3-19, 4th Southwest Division, missed playoffs
Major Additions: Player/Coach Genoni Martinez (Monterrey), Diego Zuniga (Baltimore), Yotsi Martinez (Monterrey), Gustavo Rosales (Sonora); Wilo Martinez and Carlos Hernandez (Monterrey)
Major Losses: Antonio Manfut (St. Louis)
Player Worth the Price of Admission: Catch Genoni Martinez one last time while you can. The man commonly regarded as Mexico’s best arena soccer player is making an unlikely comeback at 43. He’s primarily the new coach, so we’ll see how much he plays, but his left foot was magic. I’m still convinced he drives a car and brushes his teeth with his left leg.
Outlook: Despite coming off a disastrous 3-19 season, the Barracudas are a strong favorite to capture the second playoff spot in the Southwest Division.

Pacific Division

Ontario Fury
2017/18: 10-12, 3rd Pacific Division, missed playoffs
Major Additions: Chris Toth (San Diego), Evan McNeley (Tacoma)
Major Losses: Leonardo De Oliveira (San Diego)
Player Worth the Price of Admission: With DeOliveira gone, all eyes will be on Adrien Perez, who should have won the league’s Rookie of the Year Award last year after scoring 27 goals and 12 assists – often of the highlight reel variety – in 18 games.
Outlook: The Fury literally did nothing this offseason until signing Jeff Hughes late in October and then pulling off the blockbuster trade for Chris Toth that came at a steep cost. McNeley was also added late and David Parente played with them during their exhibition game against Turlock. Ultimately the Fury will be fighting the Tacoma Stars for the last playoff spot for the fourth straight year.

San Diego Sockers
2017/18: 19-3, 1st Pacific Division, lost Conference Finals
Major Additions: Christian Gutierrez and Manuel Rojo (El Paso); Taylor Bond (Tacoma), Christian Segura (Sonora), Guerrero Pino (Kansas City), Leonardo De Oliveira (Ontario)
Major Losses: Luan Oliveira (Milwaukee), Matt Clare (Tacoma), John Sosa (Kansas City), Chris Toth (Ontario), Anthony Medina (retired), Max Touloute (Florida)
Player Worth the Price of Admission: Brandon Escoto is the Sockers little dynamo and he has taken on a more prominent role in the team’s offense. His end-to-end goal in Dallas last week is the kind of highlight reel magic he makes on a regular basis.
Outlook: The Sockers have had an abundance of player turnover for a team who went 19-3 last year. Part of it is the team’s tendency to tinker too much, but in the case of Oliveira and Sosa returning to their old teams and Toth forcing a trade, there were factors that were out of the Sockers control. Losing Sosa and Oliveira hurts the most and integrating Bond, Gutierrez and De Oliveira will be a challenge. They will win the division again, but how will the reconstructed Sockers match up against Monterrey?

Tacoma Stars
2017/18: 11-11, 2nd Pacific Division, Lost Division Finals
Major Additions: Matt Clare (San Diego), James Riley (Seattle Sounders), Micheal Ramos
Major Losses: Taylor Bond (San Diego), Evan McNeley (Ontario); Ramone Palmer, Robert Palmer, and Alain Matingou (Kansas City)
Player Worth the Price of Admission: Nick Perera’s superior skills don’t always mesh with the arena game, but whenever he gets the ball be prepared for a complicated maneuver. When he was acquired midseason, the Stars offense was languishing, and he quickly ascended to the top of their points leader board.
Outlook: The Stars got “Magic Mike” Ramos back and it will be interesting to see if Clare can make more of an impact than Bond did in his short Stars stint. The signing of James Riley, a veteran of 251 MLS games, will also be something to watch.

Turlock Express
2017/18: 3-19, 4th Pacific Division, missed playoffs
Major Additions: Ernesto Luna (El Paso)
Major Losses: None
Player Worth the Price of Admission: Ivan Campos had a rebound season last year with 24 goals and 39 points. Technically, Campos is still a free agent, so don’t purchase that admission just yet.
Outlook: The Express are the Little Engine that Could, if the train said, “I think I can,” and then failed to get up the hill. Turlock has made some modest changes in their eighth professional season after hitting rock bottom last year. Chris Handsor has taken over full-time as Head Coach after sharing the job with longtime Express coach and owner Art Pulido. The addition of Luna comes with three other former Atletico Baja players who should give the Express a little more defense and roster depth, but only enough to make them a more respectable also-ran.

Projected 2018/19 MASL Standings
Eastern Division Record
Baltimore Blast 17-7
Utica City 14-10
Mississauga MetroStars 11-13
Harrisburg Heat 8-16
Central Division Record
Milwaukee Wave 19-5
Kansas City Comets 13-11
Orlando SeaWolves 12-12
Florida Tropics 9-15
St. Louis Ambush 6-18
Southwest Division Record
Monterrey Flash 20-4
Rio Grande Valley Barracudas 14-10
Dallas Sidekicks 7-17
El Paso Coyotes 5-19
Pacific Division Record
San Diego Sockers 19-5
Tacoma Stars 13-11
Ontario Fury 11-13
Turlock Express 6-18

Division Finals
Milwaukee>Kansas City
Monterrey>Rio Grande Valley
San Diego>Tacoma

Conference Finals
San Diego>Monterrey

Newman Cup Finals
Milwaukee>San Diego