Ontario Heads to San Diego with “Destiny in Our Own Hands”

by Gunnar Berndt

Head Coach Nordberg believes turnaround is possible in hunt for playoff berth

By Gunnar Berndt

Ontario, Calif. – Having dropped the first two in a series of four straight road games, including a painful shootout loss at RGV Barracudas FC, the Ontario Fury is looking for an upset win away from home Sunday, as the team heads down I-5 for a clash with high-flying Pacific Division rivals San Diego Sockers. With his players coming off their first bye-week since the start of 2018-19, Head Coach Jimmy Nordberg expressed cautious optimism that rested legs and minds could help spark a late-season run with the potential of catapulting the Fury past the Tacoma Stars and into the Major Arena Soccer League (MASL) playoffs.

Ontario’s away fixture at San Diego is scheduled to kick of this coming Sunday, March 10, at 5:05 p.m. PT and will be streamed live here.

Facing the daunting task of playing two games in two days against a pair of Southwest Division giants, the Southern Californians first traveled to the southernmost tip of Texas for their February 24 meeting with the Barracudas, to whom they fell in a shootout after not trailing a single time through 70 minutes. Nordberg blamed lapses in concentration for his side’s inability to seal the deal before finding itself tied 6-6 at the end of overtime.

Said the man in charge of the Fury, “After just scoring, we gave up a goal with twenty-two seconds to go in the first half, and then we gave up another one eight seconds after we had just scored in the fourth quarter. I don’t think we lost the game in the shootout but by not being disciplined enough in those key moments. You can’t concede those goals if you want to sink quality opponents on the road. They’re not going to give you those wins. You’ve got to earn them.”

Despite his criticism, Nordberg drew an overall positive conclusion from the battle with one of this season’s MASL title contenders. While defender Victor Quiroz and midfielder Anibal Echeverria each had three points in the contest, the Ontario Head Coach singled out a more unsung hero in his comments.

“RGV is a very good, gritty, hard-nosed team,” he offered, “but we had a game plan and played very well. I was happy with our attack and thought specific players, such as Andy Reyes, did especially well for us. In the end, after leading for most of the game, we actually had chances to win it late. Given all that - and this is something I very rarely say - I felt that we deserved the double-u on the day.”

The Fury would cross into Mexico the very next day for a meeting with Southwest Division leaders Monterrey Flash. Due to paperwork issues, the Inland Empire Club had to make do without two key contributors in the contest, Echeverria and active-roster points leader Juan Carlos “Charlie” Gonzalez, in addition to dealing with the inevitable exhaustion resulting from international travel and playing on consecutive nights.

Despite the challenging circumstances, Ontario put up a brave fight south of the border, leading 4-3 in the third period before falling victim to fatigue, as the Flash scored seven in a row and ended up bagging a comfortable 10-5 victory. Standout forward Franck Tayou led the home side’s charge with three tallies and one assist.

“My hat goes off to Monterrey,” said Fury Head Coach Nordberg. “They’re definitely one of the better teams in this league. Tayou is an absolute beast and they’ve got other quality pieces, such as Damian (Garcia), who can really hit the ball. With that said, it’s tough to play back-to-back games, especially when the second team you’re up against doesn’t have to and is well rested. That was exacerbated by us not having our whole squad available. Not only were we tired. Now we were also down two guys.

“Given all that, I was pleased with our showing and the fact we actually had a lead in the second half. If Charlie or Anibal had been there, those legs would have helped us, so I don’t think the scoreline gave a fair representation of our performance in the game.”

Next up for the Fury is part three of its four-part road swing, a clash with the league-leading Sockers. In addition to U.S. outdoor legend Landon Donovan (tied for 7th in MASL with a 2.5 points-per-game avg.), the San Diego attack features fellow midfield ace Brandon Escoto (tied for 4th in MASL with 37 points, tied for 6th with 22 goals, tied for 8th with 15 assists, tied for 10th with a 2.3 points-per-game avg.), the always dangerous Kraig Chiles (also tied for 10th in MASL with a 2.3 points-per-game average) and fellow forward and ex-Ontario star Leonardo de Oliveira (2nd on team with 13 assists).

The 15-1 Sockers top the league in winning percentage (.938) as well as goal differential, average number of goals scored per game (7.3) and average number of goals conceded (3.5). The four-time champions have given up by far the fewest total goals (53), Luis “Pee Wee” Ortega and recently injured fellow defender Felipe Gonzalez (1.0 points-per-game avg.) having provided cover to shot-stopper Pavel Pardo, who dominates the MASL in goals-against average (3.4) and saves percentage (.763).

While San Diego is the clear favorite for the upcoming match against Ontario, the Fury has battled its Pacific Division rival to four close results this season. After falling 4-2 at home in December, Head Coach Jimmy Nordberg’s side suffered two agonizing away defeats in January, a 3-2 overtime decision and a 6-5 result one week later, followed by another 4-2 home loss on February 7. In the most recent meeting, the Sockers’ Guerrero Pino hit the open net with three seconds to play as former San Diego goalkeeper Chris Toth was off his line to try and help his mates push for a late equalizer.

Said Nordberg in previewing Sunday’s opponent, “The theme of the week for us is attention to detail because they’re masters when it comes to that. They’re a very veteran, professional team with extremely smart players who are excellent at taking advantage of opportunities and will punish you as soon as you show a gap in your armor. Still, all of our games against them have been very close. Talent for talent we’re right there with them. If we could do what they do and be on point when it matters, I believe we could beat them.”

If Ontario hopes to turn heads with a victory this weekend, it will likely need standout performances from attack-minded defenders Victor Quiroz (tied for 10th in MASL with a 2.3 points-per-game avg., tied for team lead with 10 assists) and Maicon de Abreu (2nd on active roster with 12 goals) as well as midfielders Echeverria (2nd on active roster with a 1.6 points-per-game avg.) and Juan Carlos Gonzalez (leads active roster with 14 goals, tied for team lead with 10 assists).

In the absence of Adrien Perez (20 goals, 2.5 points-per-game avg.), who topped the MASL scoring charts for long stretches of the season and recently signed with Major League Soccer’s (MLS) Los Angeles Football Club (LAFC), Fury fans will be happy to learn fellow forward Francisco Cordeiro (2nd on active roster with 18 points) has rejoined training after recently missing several games due to injury.

Head Coach Nordberg took stock of Ontario’s campaign thus far and gave his perspective on the likelihood of a climb back into the postseason picture over the course of the remaining six fixtures. With the 8-10 Fury trailing the Tacoma Stars by one win in the hunt for second place in the Pacific Division, the Southern Californians have reason to feel somewhat hard done by, given they’ve suffered half of their ten losses either in a shootout, in overtime or by a one-goal margin in regulation time. For comparison, only two of the team’s eight wins have come by less than three goals.

“We keep saying our destiny is in our own hands,” offered Nordberg. “If we go out and handle business, we’ll be in the playoffs. Given the quality of players we have, we should not be scared of anybody. In fact, I don’t think other teams want to play us because we can beat just about anyone if we can put it together and avoid small errors. It shows in the fact we’ve been in a lot of really close games against very good opponents. It’s just a matter of actually winning those games now. If here and there things had gone our way, we could easily be well above five-hundred right now, which can be frustrating to think about.”

He added, “We’ve got to become just that slight bit better by learning from our key mistakes and growing from them. The good news is that the energy level has been high at training and the guys are motivated to get back out there and make the postseason because they want to be on that platform. I believe we have every opportunity to turn things around down the stretch.”

The Ontario Fury travels to take on rivals San Diego Sockers on Sunday, March 10, followed by an away meeting with fellow playoff contenders Tacoma on Friday, March 15. Head Coach Jimmy Nordberg’s men then return home for a massive home clash with the El Paso Coyotes on Sunday, March 24. Tickets to all games at Citizens Business Bank Arena may be purchased by clicking here or by calling 909-457-0252.