MUSKEGON – There is an outside chance that the Muskegon Risers indoor team could still qualify for the Major Arena Soccer League 2 playoffs.
To do that, however, the Risers will almost certainly have to win all five of their remaining games, and the push begins on Saturday night when Muskegon hosts the Iowa Raptors at Trinity Health Arena at 7 p.m.
The Risers have lost twice to the Raptors on the road this season, but both games were close, 8-6 and 7-6.
“That’s the mindset, that we’re going to have to go 5-0 over the next five games,” said Risers Coach Michael Vollmer. “It’s good for us to have the next three games in a row at home. We know what it’s like to travel to Iowa, it’s not easy to play on the road in this league, and we want to take care of our home field advantage.
“We got our two big trips out of the way early in the season, and now we can be home in our own beds, which is a huge plus for us.”
When we last visited the Risers, they were coming off a very tough home weekend against the Rochester Lancers.
They lost 6-3 and 10-7 on Jan. 7 and 8, respectively, dropping their record to 1-6 on the season.
Since then the team has been resting physically and mentally and preparing for a final push to salvage a decent record, and perhaps a playoff berth.
Only the three division champions and one wild card team make the league playoffs, so the Risers have very little room for error.
‘I think we’ve had a really good reset,” Vollmer said. “We’ve been working really hard the last few weeks, with really good training sessions. Nobody wants to lose games. It’s mentally tough on people.”
After Saturday the Risers will have two more home games, on Saturday Feb. 11 against the Iowa Demon Hawks and Friday March 3 against the Iowa Raptors.
They will wrap up the regular season with a pair of games on March 10-11 in Rochester, New York.
For fans who are wondering how the Risers slipped so much this season after reaching the semifinal round of the playoffs last year, Vollmer has a simple answer – the MASL 2 is a much different league this season.
The teams that played in the Risers’ division last season – Cleveland, Chicago and Cincinnati – moved to a different league, after the MASL 2 increased its standards for home game facilities. Muskegon’s Trinity Health Arena was very much up to standards, but the other teams could not make the cut.
So the arenas in the league are better this year, and so are the other teams, according to the coach.
“No knock on (former opponents), but these teams we are playing are quality, up and down the lineup,” said Vollmer, who added that many of this year’s opponents have players who are MASL 1 caliber. “It’s definitely a couple notches higher that what we played in the past. It’s very tough.”
Vollmer also noted that the Risers have a fair share of young soccer players who are getting their first taste of the indoor game this season.
“To really learn the indoor game can take 2-3 years,” the coach said. “Some of our younger players are good technically, but still don’t quite understand the system of play. You can see the boys slowly catching on to it.”
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