After a summer of turmoil, delay, and confusion centered around the Kansas City Comets and Rochester Lancers, the MASL quietly unveiled a 2017/18 alignment that didn’t include the Dallas Sidekicks, Chicago Mustangs, or Baja Atletico.
The Lancers couldn’t solidify a lease with Blue Cross Arena in time. The Comets made the final cut, but uncertainty continued to swirl about season ticket money the prior owners may be withholding from the team. The team put out a statement yesterday designed to reassure its fans, but revealed that they will be announcing a new coach even though the Comets had never announced the departure of Goran Karadzov. Last week, the Comets lost Ramone Palmer, Alain Matingou, and Robert Palmer in free agency to the Tacoma Stars.
Baja’s fate had long been tied to a move to Obregon, Sonora, but complications arose and the franchise will merely go inactive for this season until a new destination can be found. Several of Atletico’s top players recently signed with the El Paso Coyotes.
More surprising and concerning are the losses of Chicago and Dallas. The Mustangs and Sidekicks were 9th and 11th, respectively, in attendance last year, but were two of the more established teams in the league.
Chicago ran into trouble with a pay dispute that turned into a protracted lawsuit with former striker Adolfo “Bofo” Bautista, who played for the team in 2015/16. The team then lost all of its major players in free agency this offseason and the Sears Centre was withholding dates.
The Mustangs will continue in the MASL’s new second tier league, MASL2, and will once again play their games at Grand Sports Arena, where the team played its first two PASL seasons. Chicago played five seasons in the PASL and MASL and won the 2013/14 Ron Newman Cup.
The Sidekicks are folding for the second time. The team initially played from 1984 to 2004 and then were revived in the PASL in 2012 and played five more seasons. The Sidekicks brand was one of the strongest in the MASL. Led by Brazilian scoring machine Tatu, as both a player, then later as a coach, the team won four championships and was one of the top drawing indoor teams in history.
The team was bogged by financial issues following the 2014/15 season and was sued by Tatu, who severed ties with the team even after new owners purchased the team before the 2015/16 season. Without its iconic star, the Sidekicks attendance hit an all-time low in 2015/16, but rebounded slightly this season, despite back-to-back 7-13 finishes under Head Coach Simon Bozas.
The Sidekicks demise came suddenly with no fanfare or media attention. The team website was suspended about a week ago, and there was no “save our team” campaign or urgent plea for help from Tatu and former coach Gordon Jago, the franchise’s de facto custodians. Team owners Bob Heckel and Sean Porter refused comment, as did MASL Commissioner Joshua Schaub.
Attendance-wise the league will also take a hit from the Baltimore Blast’s move to the approximately 4,000 seat SECU Arena in Towson. The Blast led the MASL in attendance last year with an announced 6,299 per game.
Softening the blow are the returns of the Monterrey Flash and the Rio Grande Valley Barracudas, who moved from Brownsville, leaving the MASL with a net loss of just one team.
What was billed as a 24-team “super league” when the PASL and MISL teams merged in 2014, is now a 16-team circuit with four equally proportioned divisions.
While the league failed to add any new teams for this season, the MASL has already approved Toronto for 2018/19, and expansion possibilities include Rochester, Bakersfield, and Boise.
The 2017/18 season could have been heralded as the league’s tenth anniversary season depending on how you view the events that resulted in the formation of the MASL (merger? renaming of the PASL? brand new league?), but instead it will be the MASL’s fourth season, a league that has yet to establish a record book or any kind of cohesive history. It exists only in the present.