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Orlando SeaWolves 2019-2020 Season Preview

The SeaWolves made plenty of changes entering their second MASL season.

Nigel G. Worrall / Orlando SeaWolves

The Orlando SeaWolves will embark on their second season in the Major Arena Soccer League (MASL) starting Friday night when the team hosts the rival Florida Tropics from Lakeland at Silver Spurs Arena in Kissimmee (7:35 p.m.). The game will be live streamed on the MASL website but individual game tickets start at just $12 if you want to go check out the team in person.

If you’re not familiar with MASL soccer, think of it as a cross between regular soccer (only indoors) and hockey. The game is fast and can turn in a hurry on a weird bounce off the boards (yes, there are boards!). MASL games are generally much higher scoring than regular soccer and there can be power plays like in hockey, where one team has a temporary manpower advantage while a player sits in the penalty box.

The SeaWolves missed the MASL playoffs last season after falling off late in the season when the team had quite a few back-to-back game weekends. Injuries mounted and the team didn’t quite have the strength of depth to reach the postseason. Orlando lost six of its final seven games to fall out of contention, but the team lost a lot of close games, including a couple of one-goal games in that final stretch. Considering it was an expansion team with a first-year coach in the league in Tom Traxler, the SeaWolves did an admirable job of staying in the hunt as long as they did.

Orlando finished with a record of 9-15 last season, slipping to fourth place in the South Central Division in the season’s final weeks after contending much of the year with the Kansas City Comets and St. Louis Ambush for the division’s second playoff spot. The Milwaukee Wave ran away with the division, finishing with a 21-3 record — a full eight games better than second place Kansas City (13-11). Milwaukee made short work of Kansas City in the South Central Division final, winning the best-of-three series in a two-game sweep and out-scoring the Comets, 15-5. The Wave then beat the Baltimore Blast in the Eastern final and won the Ron Newman Cup final 5-2 over the Monterrey Flash.

The most difficult thing the club will have to do is replace leading scorer Gordy Gurson, who netted 34 goals and added 24 assists in 34 games during the 2018-2019 season, finishing fourth in the league in points (goals + assists). Gurson was involved in 58 goals and the next closest player on the team was Osvaldo Rojas, who was part of 33 goals (23 goals, 10 assist) in 23 games. Gurson has gone down I-4 and joined the hated Tropics, which will add some spice to the early games of 2019-2020, as Orlando and Florida will meet three consecutive times to start the season (this Friday and Dec. 5 in Kissimmee, and Dec. 14 in Lakeland). To make matters worse for Orlando, Rojas is still not cleared to play due to visa problems.

In addition to Ozzie Rojas’ absence, the SeaWolves may also be without midfielder Thiago Freitas (19 games, 15 goals, 16 assists a year ago) and returning defender Edwin Rojas (23 games, five goals, one assist), as well as one of the club’s newest key additions, forward/midfielder Hugo Puentes. All are currently listed on the team’s inactive list, meaning they are either awaiting league approval or international paperwork.

If you’re looking for a familiar face, former Orlando City (USL) and OCB midfielder Jonny Mendoza is back for a second season with the SeaWolves after adapting well to the indoor game last season. Mendoza was seventh on the team a year ago with 13 points (eight goals, five assists) in 19 games.

Here’s what else you need to know entering the SeaWolves’ second season:

Coaching Change

As mentioned, Traxler was a first-year head coach in the MASL last year. The former Orlando City broadcaster is no longer at the helm. General Manager Chris Kokalis, who served on the bench as an assistant last season, is now the head coach, which again might not put the club in the ideal position in comparison to bringing in a seasoned head coach with a successful track record. Kokalis, has been an assistant coach in the league in Orlando and elsewhere across five seasons but has never been the man in charge of the bench and he’ll be wearing two hats all season.

Speaking of wearing two hats, goalkeeper Piotr Sliwa will serve as a player/assistant coach in 2019-2020.

League Format Change

The South Central Division is no more. In fact, the MASL has done away with divisions and has gone to a conference format (Eastern and Western). There are 10 teams in the Eastern Conference and eight in the Western Conference. The top four teams in each conference after the 24-game regular season schedule will make the MASL playoffs.

Key Returners

  • Piotr Sliwa (Goalkeeper — 13 games (3-8 record), 53% save pct., 8.55 goals-against avg.)
  • Richard Schmermund (Defender — 21 games, 11 goals, five assists)
  • Osvaldo Rojas* (Forward — 23 games, 23 goals, 10 assists)

* Pending international paperwork

Key Additions

  • Omar Tapia (Forward — 23 goals, 12 assists with Turlock and El Paso last year)
  • Hugo Puentes (Forward/Midfielder — 27 goals, 22 assists with El Paso)
  • Odaine Sinclair (Forward — 44 goals, 48 assists in his MASL career)

Key Losses

  • Gordy Gurson* (Forward — 34 goals, 24 assists)
  • Rainer Hauss* (Goalkeeper — 16 games (6-6 record), 73% save pct., 5.78 GAA)
  • Victor France (Forward — one goal, 10 assists in just seven games due to hamstring and ACL injuries)

*Both Gurson and Hauss are now with the Florida Tropics.

Season Outlook

The SeaWolves brought in some attacking players to try to replace the loss of Gurson’s offense. If Freitas and Rojas can get cleared to play, Orlando shouldn’t drop off too much offensively. But the team didn’t do a lot to bolster the defensive end after conceding 174 goals last season. That was the worst in the division and the fourth worst in the entire MASL a year ago. That fact isn’t lost on Kokalis.

“Defensively we have to be sharp. That is what wins championships, not just in any sport, but also in this league,” Kokalis said at SeaWolves Media Day. “Last year we gave a lot of goals up that were goals that shouldn’t have happened. I want to limit our mistakes.”

The loss of Hauss doesn’t help, as he was the club’s best goalkeeper last year, with Sliwa leaking more than eight goals per game and saving just over half the shots he faced. However, Sliwa was playing through injury last year and the club will hope he can have a bounce-back year.

With a first-year head coach (again), the loss of Gurson’s prolific scoring, and a lack of notable defensive upgrades, this could be a long season for Kokalis and the SeaWolves. Orlando doesn’t look like a playoff team at this point, but things can change in a hurry in the indoor game.