Cedar Rapids Rampage hope to turn up the defense for MASL playoff chase

Major Arena Soccer League: Rampage (11-6) can pull into second-place tie with win against Harrisburg (7-8) Thursday at 7:05 p.m. at U.S. Cellular Center

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Since the calendar flipped to 2017, playoff prospects for the Cedar Rapids Rampage have continued to take hits.

Four losses in seven games have dropped Cedar Rapids to third place in the Central Division of the Major Arena Soccer League, where only two teams can reach the playoffs. With just three regular-season games remaining, the Rampage need wins and help.

“The guys had a peak earlier in the season and it’s normal to fluctuate a little,” said player-coach Hewerton Moreira, who leads the Rampage into their regular-season home finale Thursday at 7:05 p.m. against the Harrisburg Heat at the U.S. Cellular Center. “But the important games we should have put away, we didn’t. That has hurt us a little bit towards the end of the season.”

A victory Thursday would pull Cedar Rapids even with Milwaukee for second place at 12-6 with two games to go. However, the Wave own the tiebreaker by virtue of a 14-goal advantage in the four head-to-head meetings, which were split at two games apiece.

First-place Kansas City (13-4) entertains Harrisburg on Friday, then travels to Milwaukee the following day. Win both, and Kansas City clinches a playoff berth while Milwaukee would need to win its finale combined with a Cedar Rapids loss in either of its two final games.

Should Kansas City split its weekend series, the Rampage could overtake the Comets by winning out, which includes the season finale Feb. 26 at Kansas City. Cedar Rapids won both meetings with the Comets earlier this season.

“You can’t think too much ahead of yourselves,” Moreira said. “We’re going to come harder, defensively first, to make sure that we keep them (Harrisburg) close to zero on the scoreboard and then we can do our game.”

If Cedar Rapids falls Thursday, it would need either Kansas City or Milwaukee to lose its remaining games to have any chance of reaching the playoffs. This would appear highly improbable as the Comets own an eight-game win streak, while the Wave have won eight of nine.

Cedar Rapids defender Jonatan Santos and midfielder Angel Curiel return following a two-game suspension imposed against the organization for its handling of their September trade from San Diego. Both will be counted on to help a struggling defense that has allowed 41 goals over the last four games.

“Getting back to a defensive mindset and knowing that our offense will come out of our defensive side,” defender Joshio Sandoval said. “The goals will come. Being patient, especially with the ball, will be the key to winning games.”

Harrisburg (7-8) has been off since Feb. 4. The Heat have two players – forward Elmo Neto and defender Carlos ‘Chile’ Farias – who spent time with Cedar Rapids last season.

l Comments: douglas.miles@thegazette.com

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