The Sonora Soles announced on Friday morning that they were sitting out the 2018/19 Major Arena Soccer League season, sidelining a team that had been one of the league’s top performers on and off the field.
The Soles made the playoffs in all three seasons and lost to the Baltimore Blast in the Ron Newman Cup finals in both 2015/16 and 2016/17, while forward Franck Tayou won three straight Most Valuable Player awards.
Attendance-wise, Sonora averaged an announced 5,430 in their inaugural season, plus a near sellout 8,324 on April 15, 2016 when they lost a heartbreaking 14-13 championship-clinching game in overtime to Baltimore. In 2016/17 their average dipped to an announced 4,900, but that total included several unreported games. This year the MASL’s website reflects a 3,818 average, but the team only reported random round numbers (for example 4,000 on 2/17/18 and 5,000 on 1/20/18) that were not based on paid or turnstile attendance. Whatever the numbers, attendance clearly declined each season.
Besides the effect on the MASL, the Soles home arena in Hermosillo, Centro de Usos Multiples, was scheduled to serve as a host venue for the 2018 Arena Soccer World Championship in October. Without a host organization in place, organizing the big tournament just got more difficult.
“The past three seasons in the MASL have been a dream come true. We have seen many successes on the field and off and I look forward to many more achievements for the league to come,” said Soles President Rogelio Cota. “There are business associates already looking to duplicate Soles’ success other regions of Mexico. This is not a farewell, it is a see you soon.”
“The MASL is proud of Mr. Cota not only as an MASL owner, but a very prominent member of his community,” said MASL Commissioner Joshua Schaub. “He has built an outstanding sports property that will endure the Soles absence from the MASL stage. We also understand that our owners’ other ventures are important parts of their respective communities and must be cultivated. We look to have a team back in Sonora very soon as well as in other markets in Mexico.”
Sonora absorbed major losses in free agency last year, but the remaining players coalesced after a 2-6 start to finish the regular season on a 13-1 run. This offseason Franck Tayou was already set to test the waters of free agency, but all of the Soles players’ contracts were voided on May 1.
The same is true for the Rio Grande Valley Barracudas and El Paso Coyotes, though both teams still plan to play in the upcoming 2018/19 MASL season. The San Diego Sockers have already swooped in and signed Christian Gutierrez and Manuel Rojo from the Coyotes.
Last May, the MASL voided the contracts of all Chicago Mustangs players when the team failed to meet its obligations to the league. Later in the offseason, the entire Kansas City Comets roster was granted free agency. The Mustangs resurfaced in M2, while the Comets reorganized their ownership group and re-signed several of their players while remaining in the MASL. Additionally, the entire Turlock Express roster are currently free agents and the team may be forced down to M2 since it has not been able to resolve its arena problem.
The long-anticipated expansion team in Toronto still hasn’t set up so much as a Facebook page in their two year ramp time, even though the group hosted three Team Canada games at the Hershey Centre.
With the Soles gone and the Cedar Rapids Rampage unlikely to return, and the future of at least three more teams up in the air, the league will have a lot to talk about at next Thursday’s league owners’ meeting in St. Louis.