Fury Captain Sesay Rallies Troops for “Do-or-Die” Trip to Tacoma

by Gunnar Berndt

Loss would leave Ontario with purely mathematical shot at playoffs

By Gunnar Berndt

Ontario, Calif. – In a week marked by excitement over the signing of former U.S. and FIFA World Cup star Jermaine Jones, the Ontario Fury players and staff have kept a laser-like focus on the crucial importance of their upcoming road match against the Tacoma Stars. With five regular season games remaining, the Fury trails the Stars in the hunt for the second playoff spot in the Major Arena Soccer League (MASL) Pacific Division, meaning a loss to player-coach Nick Perera’s side would all but guarantee the Inland Empire club missing out on the postseason for a second consecutive time.

Ontario captain Israel Sesay offered his take on his side’s campaign thus far and preached optimism ahead of the clash with Tacoma, which is set to kick off this coming Friday, March 15, at 7:35 p.m. PT and will be streamed live here.

Sesay and his mates suffered a painful setback away from home Sunday, as they had the league-leading San Diego Sockers on the verge of their first defeat in almost three months, only to see their rivals storm back from a 4-6 deficit in the fourth quarter and win 7-6 in overtime. While Fury goalkeeper Chris Toth frustrated the opposition time after time throughout the contest, he was unable to prevent three-point performances from San Diego’s Landon Donovan and Brandon Escoto. Donovan helped end the day’s proceedings with a beautiful ball off the boards to Kraig Chiles, who fired home for the golden tally.

“It was really frustrating for all of us,” remembered defender Sesay, who put in a gritty shift for Ontario. “We played a very good game and battled until the very end. It was back-and-forth goal-scoring, but then we were actually ahead by two and things were looking good. San Diego did great to come back and tie it, and they scored a really good indoor goal for the win. These things happen, but this season it’s been a bit much. We really needed the win from this one, and from the way we battled, we felt that we deserved it.”

The loss to San Diego was the Fury’s sixth of the campaign that has come either via shootout, in overtime or by a one-goal margin in regulation time. Of the other five defeats, two have been by two goals against the mighty Sockers, including one in February that was a 3-2 affair until a late strike into the open net with Ontario netminder Toth off his line to join the attack.

Offered sixth-year Fury man Sesay, shaking his head in agony, “We’ve just been really unlucky this season. So many times, we were just missing that little something and lost after playing some really good soccer. Almost every time that something could have gone for or against us, it ended up going against us. We’ve had some strong rosters here over the years, but this one is definitely among the best I’ve been a part of. To miss the playoffs with such a good group would be extremely disappointing. Hopefully we can finally have some luck on our side and prevent that from happening down the stretch.”

If 8-11 Ontario were to lose to 10-9 Tacoma, that would give the Stars not only a three-win advantage but also a 3-2 lead in the two sides’ season series, which would serve as the tie-breaker in the event of equal records at the end of the campaign. In order for the Fury to reach the playoffs, it would then need to win all four of its remaining matches while the Stars would need to drop all four of theirs.

With that scenario bordering on a miracle, the Southern Californians could give themselves much better odds by bagging a victory on Friday, in which case they would only be behind by one win and have the upper hand in the head-to-head. Under those circumstances, Ontario could afford to earn just one more win than Tacoma over the course of each team’s final four games.

To Israel Sesay, the addition of high-profile midfielder Jermaine Jones has been a welcome boost to his side’s chances. While the 28-year-old Sesay spent time with the Los Angeles Galaxy from 2007 to 2010, his new teammate last suited up for the Major League Soccer (MLS) outfit in October 2017. Jones also played many times for the U.S. as well as in the German, English and Turkish first divisions, the UEFA Champions League and with another pair of MLS clubs, New England and Colorado. The 37-year-old was officially introduced by the Fury on Tuesday but has been working out with the MASL side for over a week.

“It’s been great to have him at practice,” said Sesay. “Just his presence raises everybody else’s level. And if people are saying he came here to take it easy, they’re wrong. Other teams better be careful because he can really play. I’ve been on the field with him, so I know what he brings. Having him joining us gives me even more hope that we can turn things around and get into the playoffs.”

While Ontario will feature by far the game’s biggest name when it travels to Tacoma on Friday, the hosts boast player-coach and indoor legend Nick Perera, who is unlikely to be starstruck and will instead look to once again outshine all other players around him. With the former Fury forward leading the league in points (62), assists (35) and points-per-game average (3.3), and sitting in third place in goals scored (27), Ontario’s Sesay revealed the not-so-secret weapon his side may utilize in order to limit the damage caused by his ex-mate.

“Nick is obviously extremely dangerous and you never have a guarantee that he won’t suddenly do something special,” conceded the former LA Galaxy man. “But I know how to mark him pretty well, so usually that’s been my job when we’ve played them. I don’t expect that to change on Friday and I’ll do my best to keep him as quiet as possible.”

While Perera can be expected to receive offensive assistance from midfielder Michael Ramos (2nd on team with 21 goals, 12 assists, 33 points and a 1.7 points-per-game avg.) the Stars defense is led by Troy Peterson (tied for 8th in MASL with 23 blocked shots) and the attack-minded Pablo da Silva (1.2 points-per-game avg.).

In addition to Sesay and Jones, the Fury roster includes netminder Chris Toth (4th in MASL with a .725 saves percentage), midfielders Juan Carlos Gonzalez (leads active roster with 25 points and team with 11 assists, tied for active-roster lead with 14 goals) and Anibal Echeverria (2nd on active roster with a 1.6 points-per-game avg.), forward Francisco Cordeiro (tied for 2nd on active roster with 18 points) and a pair of offensively inclined defenders in Maicon de Abreu (tied for active-roster lead with 14 goals, tied for 2nd on active roster with 18 points) and Victor Quiroz (leads active roster with a 2.0 points-per-game avg., 2nd on team with 10 assists).

Former Ontario attacker Adrien Perez (25 points, 20 goals, 2.5 points-per-game average), who led the MASL in scoring before landing a contract with MLS team Los Angeles Football Club (LAFC) three weeks ago, has not been a member of the active roster since then.

While being mindful that the margin for error against Tacoma is slim at best, team captain Sesay closed on a confident note, sowing more hope among fans, players and staff that all might not be lost for the Fury in 2018-19.

“If we stick to our game plan, I believe we are going to be fine up there,” he said. “There are no excuses anymore. It’s practically do-or-die for us and I personally think we will win. After that, we’ll have to come back home and try to use that momentum to prepare for the rest of the games. If we can do that, there’s no reason why we can’t surprise people by going on a late run.”

Israel Sesay, Jermaine Jones and company travel to take on the Tacoma Stars this coming Friday, March 15. They subsequently return home for another crucial clash, their meeting with the visiting El Paso Coyotes on Sunday, March 24. Tickets to all Ontario Fury games at Citizens Business Bank Arena may be purchased by clicking here or by calling 909-457-0252.