Every year pro sports leagues get an infusion of new talent and a lot of emphasis is placed on the annual rookie class. Then there are the star players who are household names and everyone follows their every move. Then we have the breakout players, players who either took their game to a whole new level, or just come on to the public radar for the first time. Here are some of the breakout players from the 2019-20 MASL season.
Brayan Aguilar, Monterrey Flash – Aguilar has always been a bright young talent since debuting with the Flash in the PASL at the age of 20, but in recent years he was most notable for being one of the only Flash players under 35. After scoring a career-high, but modest, 28 points last year Aguilar took the huge leap to MVP candidate, leading the Flash with 33 goals and 48 points in his age 27 season.
Vini Dantas, Baltimore Blast – Dantas has been a well-established member of the Blast’s core, but after four straight 20 goals seasons Vini leapt to the highest reaches of the MASL’s scoring elite this year. It is rare to see a Blast player in the scoring leaders, but there’s Dantas in third place in goals (37) and points (54), obliterating his previous highs of 23 goals and 35 points.
Elton De Oliveira, Harrisburg Heat – It might be bittersweet to be a breakout player at 35, but De Oliveira is only four seasons into his arena career. Last year with the Baltimore Blast I noticed Elton had a wicked shot, and this year, in his first season with the Heat, he became a fully accomplished two-way player. His 13 goals and six assists were just icing on the cake. Defensively De Oliveira is like a magnet in front of the goal, blocking shots and keeping the ball out of harm’s way. He was recognized as All-MASL 3rd Team, but could have been the Heat’s most valuable player and a darkhorse write-in for MASL MVP.
Dominic Francis, Harrisburg Heat – With Ricardo Carvalho taking his 30 goals to Florida and Tavoy Morgan missing the first eight games with personal issues, Francis came to the rescue by scoring in the Heat’s first 20 games and setting a new franchise record with 34 goals, while chipping in six assists. He had shown teases of his booming shot in the past while scoring nine goals his rookie season in 2016-17 and 14 last year.
Edgar Gonzalez, Monterrey Flash – Call this one “breakout, interrupted”. Despite missing 12 games, Gonzalez finished fourth on the Flash with 28 points in only 10 games. The 31-year old is only in his third arena season, but he bolted out of the gate with 11 goals and four assists in his first four games and then missed the next 12 games before finishing strong with 13 points over his final six contests. Gonzalez was the MASL co-Rookie of the Year in 2017-18 when he notched a career-high 36 points in 22 games.
Adrian Gutierrez, Turlock Express – Gutierrez is in his 9th season with the Express and didn’t even have his best statistical year, but Turlock’s newfound respectability opened many people’s eyes for the first time to the 29-year old, whose 33 points were his most since the 2012-13 season.
Victor Parreiras, Florida Tropics – Florida famously did one of the most drastic team overhauls in arena soccer history, but it was original Tropic, Victor Parreiras, who made one of the biggest impacts on their 18-3 season. Parreiras was second on the team in goals with 21 and points with 37, marking a new career high. The 29-year old was named to the All-MASL 2nd Team for the first time in his six-year career.
Manuel Rojo, Turlock Express – Rojo, who only turned 23 in March, is already in his fourth season and Turlock is his fourth team. After making his debut for Rene Ortiz’s Atletico Baja, Rojo went to the El Paso Coyotes with Christian Gutierrez and then followed him to San Diego. The Sockers loaned the 2016-17 MASL All-Rookie Team defender, who only had five goals in 45 games, to Turlock before the season and instantly regretted it. Rojo had a hat trick when Turlock ruined San Diego’s home opener with a 7-6 win, and finished with 14 goals and eight assists.
Cristhian Segura, Utica City FC – When Utica City traded 40 point scorer Slavisa Ubiparipovic to the San Diego Sockers, Segura was the personification of a player to be named later in the seemingly-lopsided trade. But it was Utica who got the last laugh when Segura went from six goals last year with San Diego to 25 goals this year. It only took him three games to match last year’s goal total and he ended up leading City with 37 points and landing on the All-MASL 1st Team. Segura was a respected player before this season and scored 22 goals one year in Sonora, MASL’s version of Coors Field, but it turned out we weren’t even spelling his first name right the last five years.
Uzi Tayou, Ontario Fury – Until this year Uzi Tayou might have been best known for being Franck Tayou’s older brother. But while Uzi has mostly followed Franck around from team to team, he signed on his own with the Baltimore Blast in 2015-16 and won the family’s only championship ring. Uzi has been to the MASL Ron Newman Cup Finals with three different teams and has featured regularly with the US National Arena Soccer Team. But this season, Uzi earned the most playing time in years, played all 21 games, finished second in the MASL in blocked shots and helped Chris Toth win Goalkeeper of the Year, while being named All-MASL Honorable Mention.
JT Thomas, St. Louis Ambush – After a franchise best 10-14 season, things were looking gloomy in St. Louis again after Justin Stinson and Zach Reget changed teams, but 27-year old Thomas effectively doubled his second year stats and ended up with 25 goals and nine assists to lead the Ambush to a franchise record .429 winning percentage. Earlier this month, Thomas was rewarded by the Ambush with a three-year contract extension.