SeaWolves went 9-15 in inaugural season
The games meant nothing in the standings — the Orlando SeaWolves were eliminated from the Major Arena Soccer League playoffs two weekends ago — but the team’s season finales were filled with intrigue, energy and fourth-quarter action.
While Utica FC took Friday’s game, 7-6, the season finale on Saturday went back and forth before Orlando took control with eight minutes left to score a 6-4 win over the Florida Tropics from Lakeland.
Gordy Gurson, one of the MASL’s top scorers, tallied goals to begin and end the SeaWolves scoring, and goalie Rainer Hauss made small leads stand up with 21 saves so Orlando could end its first season at 9-15.
Gurson finished the year with 34 goals, 24 assists (both fifth in the MASL ), and 58 points (fourth). Hauss finished ninth in goal-against average (5.78) and fifth in save percentage (73.1 percent) despite playing just over half the team’s minutes.
Both Gurson and Coach Tom Traxler said it wasn’t hard getting the team up to play its final two games when all on the line was … winning two games.
“It’s good for the fans to see us win to help grow the game. Wins and goals attract fans,” he said.
Traxler said this inaugural team won’t play together again as constructed, so he wanted the players to enjoy the night.
“Our players are a prideful bunch, are competitive people and want to win at everything they do, training, real game, doesn’t matter,” he said.
“I’m extremely happy and we said the one thing we wanted to do was end this on a positive note for our supporters. Everyone who’s been on this journey with us, we’ve taken on like family. It means a lot when we can deliver a great result and make our supporters happy.
“There’s lots of ways to measure success. We wanted to have a winning record and make the playoffs, and we didn’t but we established ourselves in a new market and developed a fantastic supporter base and a great platform to grow from. For those reason we’ll call the season a success.”
The Tropics (6-18) struck first with a goal 2:50 into the game, but the SeaWolves scored the next three as they dominated roughly the next 20 minutes of game time. Gurson, Stefan Mijatovic (his second of the weekend) and Johnny Mendoza helped give Orlando a 3-1 lead … that wouldn’t last.
Florida got the next two goals, including the only one scored in the third quarter, setting up a topsy-turvy fourth quarter. Less than a minute into the final frame, Osvaldo Rojas fired shot that was initially saved, but Mario Alvarez was there to pound home the rebound, but the lead would disappear 15 seconds later as the Tropics once again responded to tie the game to make it 4-4.
With 7:48 left in the game, Thiago Freitas showed off a wonderful bit of individual skill to finish his 14th goal of the season. Florida tried to fight back into the game but Hauss and the SeaWolves kept the Tropics out of the net, and with the visitors pressing for a final goal Gurson got in one-on-one and fired the season’s final tally past Florida goalie Hugo Silva with two seconds left to cap a celebration.
Friday’s game with Utica was a see-saw battle as well. It featured another slow start — Orlando trailed 4-1 before the half — a pair of shorthanded goals, and a feverish comeback attempt as the SeaWolves scored three times in the game’s final 11 minutes. Utica secured a playoff spot with the win.
Thought has quickly turned to next season and the legacy this franchise could build.
“I hope we can keep a good corps of guys for next year,” Gurson said. “It will be interesting to see what kind of squad we can develop over the years.”
Traxler said “vacation” is on deck for the start of the offseason, but so is work.
“We’ve got to get right back to work, assembling next season’s team. There will be an awful lot to do before we start again next season,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to the challenge of doing a better job next year.”