RGV, Monterrey up First as Fury Faces Tough Road Swing

by Gunnar Berndt

Defender Quiroz demands focus, attacking mindset ahead of back-to-back meetings

By Gunnar Berndt

Ontario, Calif. – Having ended its recent three-game losing streak in style, with Sunday’s 12-4 win over the visiting El Paso Coyotes, the Ontario Fury looks ahead to an extensive road swing which promises to test the team’s resolve and ability to grind out results in the hunt for a Major Arena Soccer League (MASL) playoff berth. The stretch of four away from home kicks off with back-to-back Herculean tasks against a pair of Southwest Division sides, as Head Coach Jimmy Nordberg’s men travel to take on 9-4 RGV Barracudas FC and the 9-3 Monterrey Flash.

After flying to the southernmost tip of Texas for its Sunday, February 24, clash with RGV, the Ontario players and staff will drive about 170 miles and in the process cross into Mexico for its meeting with Monterrey on Monday, February 25. The two games are scheduled to kick off at 3:35 p.m. PT and 6:35 p.m. PT, respectively, and will be streamed live here.

Fresh off his nomination to the MASL Team of the Week for his standout play against the Coyotes, Fury defender Victor Quiroz recapped his squad’s performance in the dominant victory and offered his views on the upcoming challenges in the U.S.-Mexico border region.

“We had to be more aggressive against El Paso because they gave us plenty of open space to attack them,” said the Mexico City native through a translator. “Getting goals was an issue for us in previous games, so having been able to score a lot is certainly a relief. That said, as we look to keep the momentum going and qualify for the playoffs, we have to stay focused and continue to work to avoid the mistakes we’ve made in the past. That’s the kind of mentality we need in order to reach the postseason.”

Quiroz, who joined Ontario just over a month ago, has hit the ground running with five goals and six assists in his first five appearances, boasting an impressive points-per-game average of 2.2. In the second quarter of the clash with El Paso, he put his name on the score sheet by pouncing on an opposition giveaway, in addition to setting up tallies by his teammates Evan McNeley and Maicon De Abreu. The 42-year-old veteran would collect his fourth point of the evening in the third period, as he sent a beautiful ball traveling across the boards from the left, Jeff Hughes firing home first-time from the doorstep.

With the win and the Tacoma Stars dropping consecutive meetings to the San Diego Sockers on the same weekend, the Fury reconquered second place in the standings from their Pacific Division foes, thus climbing back into the MASL playoff picture.

In reflecting on his recent attacking success, Quiroz, who averaged about half his current points per game in the past two seasons with San Diego and now defunct Sonora, showed humility and offered a reminder that successful campaigns are made at both ends of the field.

“Throughout my career, I’ve often been the one spreading the ball around off set plays,” he said, “which is why getting assists isn’t totally new to me. The goals have come as a bit of a surprise though. In my opinion, they’re the result of having great teammates around me and of our tactics. We’ve been working on our offensive game a lot. While it’s great for me to be collecting points, I believe its now time for us to improve on the things that have given us a hard time defensively.”

The first opportunity to do so will come in Sunday’s game against RGV Barracudas FC. Despite sitting one win below the Monterrey Flash in the Southwest Division standings, RGV boasts a far superior goal differential at plus 42, compared to their geographical neighbors’ plus 21. Three of the side’s four defeats in 2018-19 have come by single-goal margins, with player-coach Genoni Martinez’ men falling at San Diego and against another fellow MASL title contender, the Flash, in consecutive meetings in December. Both losses came in overtime.

The Barracudas recently rode an eight-game win streak before dropping their second decision to Monterrey last week, a 5-2 final score on the road.

“RGV is a completely different team than they were in the past,” remarked the Fury’s Quiroz. “Over the years they’ve never been afraid of anyone, but this season both their defensive and offensive lines have looked really impressive. After losing to the Flash, I’m sure they will want to bounce right back and come out strong on their home turf, so we have to be alert and tough from the get-go. It’s important that we commit as few unforced errors as possible and play as aggressively as we did against El Paso.”

The RGV offense features a quartet of productive contributors in midfielders Efrain Martinez (24 points, tied for 7th in MASL with 14 assists), Diego Zuñiga (16 goals) and Moises Gonzalez (15 goals) as well as attack-minded defender Gustavo Rosales (21 points, 6th in MASL with 15 assists). Veteran Rosales has also been key to his team’s success in keeping opponents off the board, with the Barracudas posting the second-best goals-against average in the league. Goalkeeper Diego Angel Arriaga leads the MASL in saves percentage with .792 and checks in at second in goals-against average (3.56), not least thanks to contributions from another standout defender, Mitchell Cardenas.

With Ontario forward Francisco Cordeiro out injured and team points and goals leader Adrien Perez having just landed a contract with Major League Soccer’s (MLS) Los Angeles Football Club (LAFC), the Fury will depend even more heavily on attacking contributions from Quiroz (2.2 points-per-game avg.), fellow defender Maicon De Abreu (15 points, 11 goals) and midfielder Juan Carlos Gonzalez (22 points, 13 goals). Goalkeeper Chris Toth has been the expected rock since joining from San Diego in the offseason, occupying third league-wide in goals-against average (4.31) and fourth in saves percentage (.728).

Following Sunday’s meeting with the Barracudas, the first this season between the two clubs, matters won’t get any easier for the Fury players, as they’ll be looking at the shortest possible turnaround before Monday’s clash with Southwest Division leaders Monterrey south of the border. Veteran Quiroz and his mates have battled the Flash once before in 2018-19, suffering an agonizing 6-5 overtime defeat on the road in late January. The Ontario defender bagged a total of three assists in the game.

“Going there means playing in a very tough environment,” said Quiroz, a native of Mexico City who has represented El Tri in both beach soccer and futsal, including in the 2012 FIFA Futsal World Cup. “Given how good the Flash is at home, we need to be totally focused and face them head-on like last time.”

With the recent victory over RGV, the Flash bounced back from an 8-7 defeat at Dallas one week ago, in the process reestablishing itself as one of the MASL teams to beat this season.

Head Coach Luis Jaime Borrego’s squad boasts a scary attacking tandem in star forward Franck Tayou (tied for 2nd in MASL with 22 goals, tied for 7th with 29, 8th in points-per-game avg. with 2.4) and explosive midfielder Jorge Rios (tied for 4th in MASL with 20 goals, tied for 10th with 26 points). While Tayou put on a show in the win over the Fury less than a month ago, bagging three tallies and two assists, defender-midfielder Miguel Vaca (18 points, 1.5 points-per-game avg.) had the day’s golden goal. Defender Damian Garcia has impressed with a 1.0 points-per-game average over the course of the current campaign.

Said Ontario’s Quiroz in concluding his remarks, “While defending well on key plays will be important against Monterrey, I believe this is another game where we have to be attack-minded and put our chances away if we’re hoping to gain the upper hand. If we succeed at that and get a victory down there, that could give us a huge boost in the standings and heading into the final stretch of our playoff push.”

The Ontario Fury travels to take on RGV Barracudas FC on Sunday, February 24, and the Monterrey Flash on Monday, February 25, as it kicks off a challenging four-game road swing. The team returns home on Sunday, March 24, for a massive home clash with the El Paso Coyotes. Tickets to all contests at Citizens Business Bank Arena may be purchased by clicking here or by calling 909-457-0252.