MUSKEGON – Before you judge the Muskegon Risers too harshly, consider the circumstances they played under last weekend.
They traveled west for Thursday and Friday games in Cedar Rapids, Iowa and lost both nights. They fell to the Iowa Demon Hawks 17-4 on Thursday and the Iowa Raptors 7-6 on Friday.
Considering what the Risers were missing from their roster, the outcomes were not that surprising.
The league allows teams to dress 14 field players and two goalies for each game, but the Risers were very shorthanded, taking only 11 field players and two goalies on the trip. Then two players suffered injuries and they only had nine field players for Friday’s game.
Among the missing were some familiar names who usually make a big difference for the Risers, including big scorer Miguel Flores, Aldony Mendez, Michael Schmitt, Cody Loss, Moses Crawford, Franco Calabrese and Henry Spees.
“It was a tough time to play, in the middle of the week,” said Risers head coach Michael Vollmer. “Some guys couldn’t get off work, and it was just before the holiday and some guys had prior plans they couldn’t get out of.”
While being shorthanded certainly handicapped the Risers, losses are still losses, and the team is now 1-4 on the season and in a bit of a tough situation.
They Risers only play a 12-game regular season schedule, which means they have seven games to get back into the Major Arena Soccer League 2 playoff hunt.
Automatic playoff berths go to the champions of each of the three divisions. Vollmer believes that the Demon Hawks, who currently lead the league’s North Division with nine points in the standings, will probably be the champion, and he hopes the Risers – currently seven points behind the Demon Hawks – can compete for the league’s single wild card playoff spot.
That would mean winning all or most of their remaining seven games, starting with Friday and Saturday night’s home games against the Rochester Lancers.
The good news is that the Risers play their next five games at home, and don’t go on the road again until the last two games of the regular season.
“We need to get two wins this weekend,” Vollmer said. “We need to get a little run at home, which we are more than capable of doing.”
Rochester is quite literally an unknown opponent for the Risers, because unlike every other team in the North Division, the Lancers have yet to play a game this season.
Vollmer said the Lancers will come in with some talent and will be well-coached, but the Risers will have game experience in their side.
“We have to use our game fitness to the best of our ability,” the coach said. “Usually teams playing their first game can be physically fit, but will not be game fit. From the opening whistle we will have a sense of urgency, that’s for sure.”
The coaches played and did well!
With so many missing players last weekend, Vollmer and assistant coach Ryan Wagenmaker suited up and took the field and put up some points.
Wagenmaker, a former Risers player, scored one goal in Thursday’s loss to the Demon Hawks, and added two goals and an assist in Friday’s loss to the Raptors.
Coach Vollmer also chipped with one goal on Friday night against the Raptors.
Vollmer ended his playing career as a backup goalie with the Risers last season and hasn’t played very much in the field for quite some time, but he got the job done when pressed into duty.
“I did one game last year in the field in an away game, but before that it was two or three years since I played in the field,” the coach said. “I actually transitioned to goaltender in 2018.
“Ryan really showed up for us last weekend. He really performed well. For him to score some goals and add some assists was really big for us.”
The Risers are happy to take a Pill
One upside for the Risers last weekend was the emergence of a new scoring threat – Taylor Pill – who has been on the roster for the big-league Milwaukee Wave this season, but hasn’t seen much playing time at that level and dropped down to Muskegon to get on the field.
Pill showed what he could do in Friday’s loss to the Raptors by scoring a three-goal hat trick.
“Taylor is a Milwaukee player who is always on the fringe of their roster, so we gave him an opportunity to play for us and he did very well,” Vollmer said. “He has fit in great with the guys, they all love him, and he’s a very quality player.