I love it when a plan comes together. As a diehard Utica City fan, I was excited when Utica made the playoffs a couple of weeks ago. I’ve been there and done that though. This year is different. Utica has a very good chance of becoming Eastern Division champions, something I’ve never been a part of. This was a huge week for FC, as they were on the road, needing to keep pace with the Baltimore Blast, and stay atop the division. They came through with two huge wins against teams that have beaten them once this season, the MetroStars and Heat. Utica did their part, as did Baltimore, taking care of Orlando and Mississauga at home, setting up a winner take all match-up in Utica on the 31st. As of right now, I’m on a 12-game winning streak, going undefeated last week, while Hannah went 10-2. Let’s see who we have in Week 18!

FRIDAY 3/29:

HARRISBURG over Mississauga: Story time, boys and girls. I was getting ready to watch the first game on Sunday, when I received a text from Ricardo Carvalho, leading scorer for the Harrisburg Heat, and number one fan of Hannah. He asked how we were doing, then proceeded to tell us he had a jersey for us. If I had received this message earlier in the day, I would have jumped in the car, and driven to Harrisburg, possibly with Hannah in tow. This is why I love this league. It’s not just the whole “giving us a jersey” thing, but he took time, two hours before his game against OUR team to text us to see how we were doing.

Anyways, onto the game. Both teams are out of the playoff picture, but that doesn’t mean this game isn’t important. Each team has shown glimmers of amazing soccer this year, both being against Utica of course. Last weekend, the MetroStars lost both games before halftime started, as Baltimore and Utica cruised to victories. Meanwhile, Harrisburg had mixed results. On Saturday, they beat Orlando, 15-10, which in MPS, would have been around 35-23. But on Sunday, they lost their legs midway through the third quarter, eventually losing to Utica 7-5. I like Harrisburg taking the win in this one, BUT if Mississauga plays like they did on St. Patrick’s Day, the MetroStars could pull off an upset. Start eating your Lucky Charms guys! Harrisburg 9, Mississauga 5. HANNAH’S PICK: Hannah cannot stop talking about her new friend in Harrisburg, so I’m going to guess she’s picking the Heat as well.

ORLANDO over Kansas City: Will the second place team in the South Central Division please stand up? For the moment, that is Kansas City, as they’ve crawled above .500, and with that, given themselves breathing room over both St. Louis and Orlando. As of right now, this is a two horse race between these two teams. If Kansas City wins, they’re in. I enjoy a good playoff race, so I’m going to pick the SeaWolves in a minor upset, despite Orlando getting swept last weekend. The Comets will be without newly acquired Kevin Ellis, after his “involvement” in a donnybrook on Sunday against the Ambush. I watched the end of that game, and I’m very confused by the outcome. I think this is one of the “you needed to be there” type moments, where we on the outside are missing something. Anyways, Orlando takes a 7-6 win, making the playoff race a little murkier. HANNAH’S PICK: Hannah thinks Kansas City will clinch a spot in the playoffs after beating the SeaWolves.

MONTERREY over El Paso: Monterrey played one of their best games on Sunday, defeating their rivals, the Rio Grande Valley Barracudas, 3-1. This will be the last “gimme” game for the Flash, as their final four games are against possible playoff opponents. Meanwhile, El Paso continues to be at the bottom of the MASL, after losing 8-2 to the Ontario Fury, in another Sunday match-up. Will the Flash rest key players before their Sunday rematch against RGV at home? A weekend sweep by Monterrey will pretty much assure them the Southwest Division title, giving them home field advantage in the playoffs. The Flash will prevail 10-6. HANNAH’S PICK: Hannah will take the Flash in this one.

MILWAUKEE over St. Louis: The Ambush are technically still in the playoff hunt, albeit by a small chance. A win over the Wave would put them at 11-13, the same win total as Kansas City. But, I’ve heard St. Louis hasn’t had any luck with Milwaukee over the years, losing 24 in a row. The good news is this will be played at the Family Arena. The bad news is they will be without Hewerton Moreira as he is suspended for the final game of the season, after a red card in the aforementioned donnybrook on Sunday. The Ambush are an up and coming team, but after this game, they will be down and out. Wave win 8-3. HANNAH’S PICK: It’s a clean sweep on Friday as Hannah likes the Wave taking the W.

SATURDAY 3/30:

UTICA over Mississauga: Wait, a Saturday game in Utica? You read that correctly. My boys in blue will be playing a night game against the MetroStars. This takes me back to the days of driving to the OnCenter in Syracuse to watch the Silver Knights. On Saturday, Utica avenged their loss against Mississauga at home. The only problem with that was they avenged that loss on the road, and not in front of their raucous fans. So, they will need to avenge the loss at home AT HOME. Utica’s depth was shown last weekend, as they were without four key players: Bo Jelovac, Slavisa Ubiparapovic, Joey Tavernese, and Logan Roberts (everyone forgets about Logan, but not me!). I would imagine they will not play in this game, saving their legs for the huge match-up on Sunday with Baltimore. The MetroStars will be playing Harrisburg the night before, and back to back games aren’t very rewarding, especially in the second game. UC a victory for FC! I see a 10-4 win for Utica. HANNAH’S PICK: After a brief pause, she says Utica City.

FLORIDA over Kansas City: The Comets once again make the trip to Lakeland to face Florida, after playing in Orlando the night before. This song and dance happened two weeks ago, with Kansas City winning the first 9-7 over the SeaWolves and falling to the Tropics 12-8. It’s going to be deja vu all over again for the Comets, as their playoff hopes will be cloudier than an overcast day (sorry I couldn’t come up with anything wittier there). Tropics will keep the Comets from clinching that playoff berth once again. Florida 8, Kansas City 6. HANNAH’S PICK: Hannah likes the Tropics as well.

ONTARIO over Turlock: Citizens Business Bank Arena will be hopping on Saturday as Ontario will host the M2 finals, which will take place before the Fury/Express game. I have a feeling the finals of M2 will be more exciting than this game. The Fury are coming off of an 8-2 victory over El Paso, while Turlock got blown out by San Diego at home, 9-3. Ontario needs this win to continue their chase for the second playoff spot in the Pacific Division. They will have two games after this, at home against both San Diego and Monterrey. Give me Jermaine Jones and the Fury over Turlock, 11-5. HANNAH’S PICK: Hannah’s upset of the week takes place in Ontario, as she’s taking the Express.

BALTIMORE over Harrisburg: In order for the biggest game in Utica City’s short history to take place, Baltimore will need to take care of business in Harrisburg. The Blast made short work of the Heat back on the 17th, winning 8-2. Harrisburg will be playing game two of a doubleheader, against a defensive minded team. Sound familiar? It should, considering it happened last week. I expect a lower scoring game out of this one. Give me Baltimore over the Heat, 6-3. HANNAH’S PICK: Hannah can’t pick the Blast in this one, so she’ll take the Heat.

With the Blast’s win over Harrisburg, this leads up to my “Game Of The Year”…

SUNDAY 3/31:

UTICA over Baltimore: So, there’s been a debate going on about the Eastern Division and how the playoffs are already set. For those of you who don’t know what’s going on, here’s the scoop: Baltimore is hosting Game 1 on Saturday April 20th. Utica will then be hosting Game 2, and a possible mini game on April 22nd. So, why even bother with this game, as the playoffs are already set? Both teams have a chance to win the Eastern Division title, a title that Utica (or Syracuse) has never held. I know the players for Utica City are excited for the home field advantage, but are eyeing that division title. As of right now, FC have the tiebreaker over the Blast when it comes to goal differential between the two teams, so a Baltimore win wouldn’t automatically give them the title. On the other hand, a Utica win would give them that title outright. This will not be the same Blast team the FC fans will be used to seeing. In their last three games, the Blast have only given up five goals. If you take out a nine-goal game from Kansas City, Baltimore has given up 19 goals, going back to February 10th. I have the utmost respect for the Blast, and I am looking forward to a great game. But, this game is in Utica, where Baltimore has not posted a good showing, and after playing the night before, I don’t see the Blast coming out of this one with a victory. Utica goes 3-0 against the Blast at home, after posting a 6-4 win, clinching the Eastern Division title. HANNAH’S PICK: She likes Utica City so much in this one, she sang her pick.

MILWAUKEE over Orlando: So, Orlando plays at home on Friday against the Comets, and what do they get to do on Sunday? How about hop on a plane, fly to Milwaukee, and face the Wave. Sound good? Not exactly for a team that is fighting for their playoff lives. The SeaWolves face Utica City and Florida at home for their final two games, making this game on the road, a pretty important one. But, Milwaukee is still searching for home field advantage throughout the playoffs, so they are still playing for something. The Wave look great right now, and they’ll continue their winning ways, handing the SeaWolves a crushing defeat, 8-2. HANNAH’S PICK: Hannah will take the Wave over the SeaWolves in this one.

DALLAS over El Paso: Dallas confuses me. The Sidekicks have beaten some of the playoff teams in Tacoma, Monterrey, and most recently Rio Grande Valley. But, in their last three games, they’ve been outscored 29-8, with two of those losses coming against San Diego. So, are the Sockers that good, or is Dallas starting to lose steam going into the end of the season? I say it’s a combination of both. Luckily, the Sidekicks will get El Paso at home, a team that has given them fits this season. But, Dallas has gone 4-0 against the Coyotes this season, all very close games. I see more of the same in game five between these teams. Give me the Sidekicks in a 7-5 victory over El Paso. HANNAH’S PICK: Hannah will take the Sidekicks as well.

RIO GRANDE VALLEY over Monterrey: Let’s replay last Sunday’s game between these two teams in Monterrey. Sunday’s game between the Barracudas and Flash, was an instant classic. Both teams left everything they had on that field, and it showed. It was a defensive battle, with the Flash coming out on top 3-1. Flash goalkeeper Diego Reynoso stood on his head, stopping nine shots, while Diego Arriaga stopped six out of the nine shots from Monterrey. So, why am I going with RGV in this one? Well, the first goal given up by Rio Grande Valley was a fluke, an own goal that never should have happened. So, this was technically a 2-1 win for the Flash. Now, let’s look at shots taken. Rio Grande Valley outshot the Flash 20-14. Fourteen shots isn’t a lot over a four quarter span, so a key for the Flash in this game, is to turn up their offensive presence against the Barracudas. I don’t see that happening against the 2nd best defensive team in the league, when it comes to goals conceded. A few more balls will bounce in the Barracudas favor, as RGV takes down the Flash, 5-4. HANNAH’S PICK: Hannah is going against me by taking the Flash in a weekend sweep.

SAN DIEGO over Tacoma: The Stars take the field after having a break in the action. They haven’t played since a 5-4 loss against their Pacific Division rival, the Ontario Fury, back on March 15th, so they’ve had two weeks to prepare for a key Pacific Division game against San Diego. The Sockers are coming off of an easy 13-3 victory over Dallas on the road. The Landon Donovan Tour will continue on, as he visits Kent, Washington, for the first and possibly only time this season. The last time these two teams met, San Diego held off the Stars, 9-5. Tacoma isn’t favored to win this game, but a win will go a long way when it comes to the Pacific Division playoff race. Nevertheless, San Diego is still San Diego, a team that has won their last 17 games. I see it turning to 18 games, after the Sockers handle the Stars, 7-5. HANNAH’S PICK: Hannah is reaching for the Stars on this one. Tacoma it is.

Now, it’s time for my M2 predictions! According to the M2 website, the game between Las Vegas and Arizona is still going on, and it’s been going on for the last 18 hours. But, after further review, I have found out the Knights have moved on to face the Sockers 2 team from San Diego. I see San Diego moving on to the finals against…the Rochester Lancers! We’ve seen this in the MASL playoffs in past years; an offensive juggernaut runs into a defense-first team. Defense wins championships. Well, in this case, defense wins a semifinal. I’m not sure about a final, as San Diego has won their last two games by a combined 31-0, and leads the M2 in goals conceded, with 36. I would LOVE to see the Lancers win a championship, and if that happens, I will be there to celebrate with them. But, I’m sorry Rochester fans, I’m going to take the Sockers 2 in a close game. As for Hannah, she’s going with the underdog in Las Vegas, because they remind her of the Silver Knights.

There you have it, MASL Nation. Over 2,000 words of rambling and a little bit of analysis thrown in there. Best of luck to Alec Marschke this week, as we have decided to go head-to-head, for bragging rights, as well as goodies! Go watch his video for more details on the bet!

Until next time, WHAT SAY YOU?

Merlin –
Last week: 12-0, Season: 133-44

Hannah –
Last week: 10-2, Season: 85-63