The Milwaukee Wave have been in this position before, down a game in a Major Arena Soccer League playoff series and staring at a do-or-die situation on their home field. Only nine days ago, in fact. After losing Game 1 at Kansas City, they bounced back to beat the Comets on March 12 in Milwaukee, forcing the crucial and immediately subsequent Mini-Game 3, which the Wave won to advance to the MASL Eastern Conference Finals.
Fast forward to Tuesday, and the Wave are in the same undesirable but far-from-dire position: having lost Game 1 to the Blast in Baltimore, Milwaukee now hosts Game 2 at the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena. If the Wave wins tonight, no matter the score, they force another Mini-Game 3 that will begin 15 minutes after the conclusion of the prior match.
In sports parlance, taking it one game at a time is an unsurpassed cliché; but in this case, for the Wave, it’s all they can do and it’s true. And for Milwaukee fans, whom the team is enticing with ticket deals and is hoping loudly packs the Arena, forcing a winner-take-all Mini-Game 3 is the most exciting outcome. On the line tonight is a trip to the MASL’s Ron Newman Cup Championships, an indoor league finals in which the Wave – who last won a title in 2012 in the MISL – have yet to appear.
Last year, the Wave’s season ended against the Comets in the Divisional Final round of the playoffs; in 2014-15, after vanquishing Chicago in a thrilling Mini-Game 3 at the UWM Panther Arena to move past the Central Divisional Semi-Final, the Wave’s season again ended with a loss to the Comets in the Divisional Final.
But this year, Milwaukee revenged those previous defeats, recovering from a 7-6 Game 1 loss at Kansas City to beat the Comets 7-5 in Game 2 and 3-2 in the Mini-Game 3. That sent Kansas City home and pushed Milwaukee into the conference finals against the Blast.
In Game 1 at Baltimore, the Wave were up 6-3 midway through the third quarter, but a fierce Blast comeback eventually tied the match at 7-7 and forced overtime, when Milwaukee fell, 8-7. There were questions and complains afterward from the Wave about the officiating and some fouls that weren’t called, but ultimately, head coach Giuliano Oliviero said, "We were very disappointed because knew we blew a lead."
Assuming you’re still with us and all caught up on how we got here, here’s everything you need to know about tonight’s critical Game 2 (and potentially 3), kicking off at 6:35 p.m. in Milwaukee:
The MASL defending-champion Blast won the Eastern Division with a record of 14-6 and then knocked out the Harrisburg Heat, 2-1, in their first-round playoff series. Baltimore had the league’s stingiest defense during the regular season, allowing just 69 goals – the next-fewest was San Diego’s 90 and Milwaukee gave up 103 – but isn’t nearly as good offensively. The Blast scored 113 goals this season, which was the third-fewest in the league, compared to the Wave’s 135.
Opposing player to watch
Goalie William Vanzela led the league in goals-against-average (3.34 per game), finishing second in save percentage (.728) and third in wins (14). The Brazilian won the 2015 MASL Goalkeeper of the Year award and is the backbone of Baltimore’s hard-to-breach defense.
The Wave were second in the MASL’s Central Division standings, finishing with a record of 13-7 and two games behind the Comets. They went 8-2 at home and rode a strong finish – a seven-game winning streak in January and 10-2 overall down the stretch – into the playoffs. Milwaukee’s most important players include forwards Ian Bennett and Max Ferdinand, midfielders Marcio Leite and Daniel Mattos and defenders Drew Ruggles, Daniel Chamale and Tenzin Rampa, as well as goalie Josh Lemos.
Wave player to watch
Milwaukee’s most dangerous scorer and among the MASL’s best attackers, Bennett is the team’s emotional leader, the ever-smiling fan favorite and one of the faces of the league. The 31-year-old from Hamilton, Ontario, is in his eighth season with the Wave, as electric on the field as he is engaging with kids – especially during postgame autograph sessions – off of it. Bennett led the team and finished second in the league in points (64), goals (53) and points-per-game average (3.20). He’s scored a playoff-high eight goals so far in four games.
Bennett was the Wave's top scorer and his opportunities in front of goal often came courtesy of Ferdinand, a talented playmaker who led the MASL in assists this season (30). The two friends are a potent combo, and both say their chemistry and playing styles complement each other. "Ian’s like my brother, man, he makes my life easier, and vice-versa," said Ferdinand. "We have a good connection off the field, and it makes it easier for us on the field." Added Bennett: "We’ve always had that knack, even in practice, we just get it. It’s kind of weird, funny; it’s so simple when he’s out there."
"Baltimore had an incredible comeback in Game 1. Anytime you’re playing the defending champions, they are never out of it. We just couldn’t close out the game. It was a tough loss on the road, but it’ll be great to be back home and playing in front of our fans. As a competitor and a professional athlete, this is where you want to be – taking on the best. We are really excited for Tuesday and look forward to a positive outcome." – Giuliano Oliviero
With tickets for tonight’s do-or-die Eastern Conference Finals at the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena as low as $15, local fans won’t find a more electrifying, affordable, family-friendly value for a sporting event in the city. The Bucks are on the road, the Admirals aren’t playing and there’s no more March Madness basketball until Thursday. Six-time indoor league champions and the longest-running professional soccer franchise in the United States, the Wave need your support as they try to reach the MASL Finals. Buy tickets here.
Born in Milwaukee but a product of Shorewood High School (go ‘Hounds!) and Northwestern University (go ‘Cats!), Jimmy never knew the schoolboy bliss of cheering for a winning football, basketball or baseball team. So he ditched being a fan in order to cover sports professionally - occasionally objectively, always passionately. He's lived in Chicago, New York and Dallas, but now resides again in his beloved Brew City and is an ardent attacker of the notorious Milwaukee Inferiority Complex.
After interning at print publications like Birds and Blooms (official motto: "America's #1 backyard birding and gardening magazine!"), Sports Illustrated (unofficial motto: "Subscribe and save up to 90% off the cover price!") and The Dallas Morning News (a newspaper!), Jimmy worked for web outlets like CBSSports.com, where he was a Packers beat reporter, and FOX Sports Wisconsin, where he managed digital content. He's a proponent and frequent user of em dashes, parenthetical asides, descriptive appositives and, really, anything that makes his sentences longer and more needlessly complex.
Jimmy appreciates references to late '90s Brewers and Bucks players and is the curator of the unofficial John Jaha Hall of Fame. He also enjoys running, biking and soccer, but isn't too annoying about them. He writes about sports - both mainstream and unconventional - and non-sports, including history, music, food, art and even golf (just kidding!), and welcomes reader suggestions for off-the-beaten-path story ideas.