Ontario Hosts El Paso in “Must-Win” Meeting Sunday

by Gunnar Berndt

Head Coach Nordberg stresses importance of snapping three-game losing streak

By Gunnar Berndt

Ontario, Calif. – The Ontario Fury will be desperately looking for a win against the visiting El Paso Coyotes on Sunday, following a six-week stretch of tough results that recently saw Head Coach Jimmy Nordberg’s men drop out of the Major Arena Soccer League (MASL) playoff picture. Nordberg reflected on narrowly falling to the high-flying San Diego Sockers and demanded urgency ahead of the upcoming intra-divisional clash with an El Paso squad keen on ending its own four-game losing streak.

The Fury’s crucial home meeting with the El Paso Coyotes at Citizens Business Bank Arena is scheduled to kick off this coming Sunday, February 17, at 5 p.m. PT and will be streamed live here. Tickets may be purchased by clicking here or by calling 909-457-0252.

Having gone 1-6 since January 5, Ontario has suffered a trio of straight losses over the course of the past three weeks. In each one, the Inland Empire club trailed after the opening quarter, then dragged a deficit along for most of the game and surged late to come close to victory. After falling in overtime at Monterrey and Turlock, the Fury entered the closing period against San Diego down 3-0 and made it interesting by scoring twice, only to run out of time and concede again at the death. With seconds left, Guerrero Pino found the open net thanks to goalkeeper Chris Toth being away to help his side’s frantic attacking efforts.

Said Ontario Head Coach Nordberg, “One of the objectives we had set was to win the first quarter because in the past few games we’ve been digging ourselves into a hole early. We wanted to come out on the front foot by building a bit of a lead, which obviously didn’t work out so well for us. That said, I was happy with the resiliency of the group in responding to falling behind. We defended better, kept the game tight and did well to get to within a goal. There were certainly some positives to build on.”

The man in charge of the Fury went on to identify what he regards as the most pressing area of concern as his side aims to return to its winning ways from earlier in the campaign.

“Scoring is a huge problem for us at the moment,” he said. “That’s why we’ve had to try and grind out games lately. Two times in a row we’ve had to fight to come back from multi-goal deficits in the last few minutes. That’s very taxing on the group and you won’t win against a team like San Diego that way because they’re very good at closing out leads. Right now we’re working on fixing those attacking issues. If we can add a couple of early goals to our solid defending and be a little better at managing games and key moments, I think we’ll be in a really good spot.”

While the Sockers have just one defeat all season, Ontario’s next opponent, El Paso, sits in last place in the MASL’s Southwest Division at 3-13. Having embraced an offensive style for much of its season, Head Coach Jesus Enriquez’ team hasn’t lacked in scoring nearly as much as in its attempts to prevent opposition tallies.

Led on the attack by star midfielder Hugo Puentes (tied for 2nd in MASL with 20 goals, 4th in points with 30, tied for 4th in points-per-game avg. with 2.7) and partner in crime Jorge Rios (tied for 2nd in MASL with 20 goals, 8th in points with 26), the Coyotes will likely be looking for additional contributions from a pair of skillful defenders, Diego Salas (7 goals and 9 assists, 1.2 points-per-game avg.) and Alex Caceres (10 assists, 1.0 points-per-game avg.).

Home side Ontario features standout forward Adrien Perez (2nd in MASL with 20 goals, tied for 7th in points-per-game avg. with 2.5, tied for 9th with 25 points) as well as fellow Southern California native Juan Carlos Gonzalez (18 points). While veteran defender Victor Quiroz boasts a 1.8 points-per-game average, having impressed with four goals and three assists in four appearances since joining the club in mid-January, netminder Toth is third in the league in both goals-against average (4.33) and saves percentage (.731).

Said Fury Head Coach Nordberg in looking ahead to the clash with El Paso, “The biggest thing we’re focused on is our transitional moments, both to produce more goals for us and to deny them from scoring. Offensively, the question is how to best take advantage of those moments in order to be productive and get simple goals. Defensively, we know that we’re better when we can slow the game down. But we’re also aware that the Coyotes are a younger group of guys who like to run and gun a bit, so it will be important to limit their ability to do so and give ourselves a chance to get into those footraces.

“We definitely want to jump on them early by getting some goals as fast as we possibly can. We’ve had our first full week off in a while, so I’ve been able to work the guys pretty hard and reemphasize some of the keys to being successful. Hopefully that will pay off in the game.”

With San Diego firmly atop the MASL Pacific Division, 7-8 Ontario reconquering a postseason position over the weekend would require a victory over El Paso as well as the second-place Tacoma Stars losing away to the Sockers on Friday.

“This is the first of a number of must-win moments for us in the battle for that playoff spot,” offered Nordberg in concluding his preview of the task ahead. “We’ve got to get some wins now in order to put pressure on the Stars. Starting with a good result at home is very important for the morale of the players, the fan base and everyone associated with the team.”

The Ontario Fury hosts the El Paso Coyotes this coming Sunday, February 17. Tickets to all Fury home games at Citizens Business Bank Arena may be purchased by by clicking here or by calling 909-457-0252.