“Put up or Shut up” in Playoff Hunt: Fury May Need Win vs. Flash

by Gunnar Berndt

Head Coach Nordberg demands aggressive approach against visiting Mexicans

By Gunnar Berndt

Ontario, Calif. – There’s a good chance the equation will be straightforward for the Ontario Fury in its upcoming Major Arena Soccer League (MASL) regular season finale against the visiting Monterrey Flash. Provided the Tacoma Stars, Ontario’s only competitor for the remaining playoff spot in the Pacific Division, defeats struggling hosts Turlock Express on Saturday, the Fury will need a win of its own the next day in order to punch its ticket to the knockout rounds.

Head Coach Jimmy Nordberg recapped the recent home defeat to the mighty San Diego Sockers, offered his take on the state of the team and previewed the Fan Appreciation Night meeting with Monterrey, which is set to kick off this coming Sunday, April 14, at 5 p.m. PT. Tickets to the blockbuster fixture may be purchased by clicking here or by calling 909-457-0252.

As part of the MASL’s first nation-wide television partnership, all the action will be broadcast live by Eleven Sports, which, in addition to streaming on the Twitch platform via its free digital channel Eleven Sports NEXT (WATCH HERE), is available via national cable/satellite systems (DIRECTV channel 623, AT&T U-verse channel 1665, Verizon Fios channel 597) and other cable and OTT providers (RCN 571, Atlantic Broadband 501, Hawaiian Telcom 1091, Sony PlayStation Vue, FUBO TV).

Last Thursday’s match against San Diego made history because it featured two ex-U.S. National Team and FIFA World Cup aces on opposite sides in the Fury’s Jermaine Jones and the Sockers’ Landon Donovan. After trailing 6-2 in the third quarter, Ontario battled back with four straight goals to draw level in the closing period. However, just as all the momentum seemed to be swinging the Inland Empire club’s way, the visitors showed why they’re the kings of narrow wins in 2018-19, silencing the ruckus crowd by scoring the next pair of tallies and then twice finding the open net with shot-stopper Chris Toth away to join the attack.

Indoor legend Kraig Chiles led the charge for San Diego with a goal and two assists as the MASL leaders snapped their rivals’ three-game win streak.

Said Fury Head Coach Nordberg of his team’s effort in the 10-6 loss, “We made a lineup change that I thought turned out beneficial for us. After that, the guys showed a lot of character and heart to come back from four down and tie the game. In the end, it was just a few mental mistakes and a lack of focus to give up two instead of taking the lead.

“I was disappointed because sometimes it seems our veterans are letting us down a bit. San Diego is very good. They make you beat them and they take advantage of errors and opportunities. That’s why they’re twenty-two and one now. So we’ve got to do a better job or maintaining our composure and knowing when to go at people, knowing who’s hot and all of that. That’s been our focus this week.”

While Ontario defender Evan McNeley had a standout display against the Sockers with a goal and two assists, teammate Jones continued to tear up the league by bagging a hat trick for a total of 11 points in just 4 MASL games thus far. The 37-year-old, whose storied outdoor career featured numerous appearances for the Red, White and Blue as well as for top flight teams in Germany, England, Turkey and the United States, returned to professional soccer when he put pen to paper with his current club in mid-March.

“I’m not surprised by how successful Jermaine has been offensively,” said Jimmy Nordberg of his star player, who began his career in Germany as a striker before transitioning to the defensive midfield spot. “Even when he played for the national team, in Europe and in (Major League Soccer), I could always see he was gifted on the attack. That just wasn’t his role on the field. With what he brings, he fits perfectly into the indoor game. Anytime we can get him into a one-on-one, I really like our chances.”

Fury fans hope Jones will be on point again when it may matter most, in the potential do-or-die clash with the Monterrey Flash. With both Ontario and the Tacoma Stars sitting at 11-12, and Nordberg’s men holding the head-to-head tie-breaker between the two sides at 3-2, a Tacoma defeat at Pacific Division bottom dwellers Turlock on Saturday would send the Fury through regardless of the score of the match against Monterrey. Should the Stars take care of business in their away fixture, the neck-and-neck race would truly come down to the wire, with Jermaine Jones and company then facing a must-win against the Flash.

Said Ontario’s Nordberg, “We’re upbeat and we’re in a position where we control our own destiny, which is what we want. I’ve been saying for a while that whoever wants this last playoff spot the most will get it. Both Tacoma and us have missed opportunities to seize it and so now it’s really, hey, put up or shut up. It’s simple. We have a chance to win the next game and get ourselves to the knockout stages, so the guys have got to perform. This is what all our hard work has been for - all of the double days, all the match prep, all the fitness, all the extra training. We need to assume we’ll have to make it all count in this game.”

The task won’t be an easy one, as the Flash sits atop the Southwest Division at 18-4 and is currently riding a run of five consecutive victories. The Fury has dropped both of its previous meetings with Monterrey this season, twice losing on the road. After suffering an agonizing 6-5 overtime defeat in late January, the Southern Californians made their only other trip across the border a month later and fell victim to a combination of a determined home side, their own exhaustion and paperwork issues.

Having taken hosts RGV Barracudas FC to a shootout the previous night, Ontario was forced to embark on its second game in as many days without dynamic midfielder Anibal Echeverria and active-roster points and goal-scoring leader Juan Carlos Gonzalez. The difficult circumstances took an obvious toll as the Fury fell 10-5, courtesy of seven straight opposition strikes over the course of the third and fourth quarters.

Flash forward Franck Tayou schooled the Ontario defense in both contests, putting up a total of five goals and three assists.

This time around, the roles between the two teams will be reversed in at least one way, with Monterrey traveling to San Diego on Saturday night and then making the trip up I-15 for Sunday’s game in Ontario.

In addition to league-leading goal-scorer Tayou (46 goals, 3rd in MASL with 59 points and 6th with a 2.7 points-per-game avg.), the Flash roster boasts the Cameroonian-American’s strike partner Edgar Gonzalez (tied for 2nd on team with 34 points) as well as midfielder Jorge Rios (2nd on team with 26 goals, tied for 2nd with 34 points), defender-midfielder Miguel Vaca (2nd on team with 16 assists, tied for 2nd with 34 points) and midfielder forward Edgar Flores (leads team with 21 assists).

While defender Carlos Pichardo (4th in MASL with 32 blocked shots) provides cover for netminder Diego Reynoso, veteran forward Carlos “Chile” Farias contributes the invaluable experience of over two decades spent with professional indoor and outdoor teams in the U.S.

“Monterrey is a very good team,” offered Fury Head Coach Nordberg. “They have an excellent front man in Tayou, and Chile is quite good at controlling the game. They also have a couple of players in the back who can hit the ball, and Reynoso is a good ‘keeper. That said, they’re locked into their playoff spot, win or lose, and this time they’re the ones playing back-to-back games. That means we need to go out and be the aggressor to try and hopefully catch them on slightly tired legs and minds.”

He continued, “In an ideal scenario, we’d pressure them early and quickly jump out in front by four or five, and then be veteran enough to manage the lead and see out the win. We have to protect our home court. There’s no way teams should come in here and beat us, especially in a matchup as important as this.”

In executing its game plan, Ontario will be looking for strong performances from Jones (tied for 3rd in MASL with a 2.8 points-per-game avg.), fellow midfielder Gonzalez (leads team with 33 points and 14 assists, leads active roster with 19 goals and 2nd with a 1.6 points-per-game avg.), goalkeeper Chris Toth (tied for 2nd in MASL with a .733 saves percentage) and a pair of attack-minded defenders in Maicon de Abreu (2nd on active roster with 24 points and 17 goals) and Victor Quiroz (2nd on team with 10 assists).

Former Fury striker Adrien Perez (25 points, 20 goals, 2.5 points-per-game avg.), who led the MASL in goal-scoring until joining Major League Soccer outfit Los Angeles Football Club in late February, has not been a member of the active roster since then.

On the heels of roughly three thousand and five thousand fans attending the recent home fixtures against Turlock and San Diego, respectively, Ontario Head Coach Nordberg closed out his remarks with an emotional appeal to his club’s supporters.

“I’m excited for our regular season finale,” he said. “We’ll be in the driver’s seat and we can’t afford to let ourselves and our region down. The crowds for the last two games were great, so I hope a bunch of the faithful come out again to get behind these guys and will them into the playoffs.”

The Ontario Fury is scheduled to take on the visiting Monterrey Flash this coming Sunday, April 14. Tickets to all contests at Citizens Business Bank Arena may be purchased by clicking here or by calling 909-457-0252.