Progress made, but opportunities lost for 2016-17 Cedar Rapids Rampage

Major Arena Soccer League: Club pleased with seven-win improvement from expansion year, but no playoff berth shifts focus to summer outdoor season

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CEDAR RAPIDS – There is no denying that substantial progress was made.

But there remain plenty of “what-ifs” for the Cedar Rapids Rampage.

The second-year Major Arena Soccer League franchise wrapped up the regular season with a 10-3 loss at Kansas City last Sunday. A 12-8 record and third-place finish in the Central Division behind league stalwarts Kansas City and Milwaukee left the Rampage as the odd team out for a playoff spot.

“We are happy for the improvement that we were able to achieve, but obviously we were a little frustrated with not being able to clinch the playoff spot,” Rampage player-coach Hewerton Moreira said. “Our goal was to improve. Our goal was to take the team from a 5-15 type of team and bring the team to a team that teams will respect and will know that we are there to compete. I think we achieved our goal.”

Cedar Rapids raced to the top of the standings over the first half of the season with eight wins in 10 games, but limped to the finish by losing six of its final 10 contests. The club was undone by defensive lapses that were never solved. After allowing just 60 goals in the first 13 games, opponents found the net 67 times over the final seven.

“I think our intensity dropped a little,” Moreira said. “We weren’t able to be the same team defensively that we were at the beginning of the season. We gave up way too many easy goals. .. It was definitely frustrating for me and probably for the defenders, as well. … Our inability to defend as a team toward the end really cost us.”

The organizational decision to hand the player-coach role to Moreira proved wise. The 37-year-old veteran not only coached the team to a seven-win improvement in the standings, but he also led the club with 36 points (22 goals, 14 assists) on the field.

“I think overall I can say that I did OK,” Moreira said. “Just because my personal goal was to get the team in the playoffs.”

Midfielder Gordy Gurson tallied a team-high 23 goals (10th in the MASL) with 10 assists, while a trio of veteran offseason acquisitions provided a huge boost from the defender position. Pablo Da Silva was tied for sixth in the MASL with 19 assists and added nine goals, while Jonatan Santos added seven goals and 13 assists. Joshio Sandoval tallied a team-high 25 blocks.

“Those players came not to only improve the team, but also came to help out the younger players to become better,” Moreira said. “They have experience, they have the desire, they have the heart. It’s contagious.”

Veteran forward Tony Walls finished the season with 17 goals, while second-year midfielder Bobby Hurwitz added eight goals and 10 assists. Cedar Rapids native Charlie Bales tallied three goals and three assists in 11 games.

“The way the veterans were able to help inside and outside of the field really helped, too,” Moreira said.

Rookie goalkeeper Brett Petricek recorded a save percentage of .800 or better in seven games, and collected at least 10 saves in 15 of 20 games. Another rookie – forward Derek Huffman – collected eight goals and nine assists.

Despite a winning product and a 7-3 record at the U.S. Cellular Center, attendance waned. The club averaged 1,973 fans per game, which ranked 13th out of 17 MASL teams. The average during the 2015-16 expansion season was 2,772, a 29 percent decrease.

“We got support from the fans,” Moreira said. “The fans were loyal. … We were able to see familiar faces every game. Obviously, we strongly believe that the crowd can be bigger. It is a fun game. It is a nice game. The team is very competitive. There is no excuse for people not to come and support, but we are very happy with the fans that came. … The fans that came every week to support us, that helped us to fight for the playoff spot.”

With the indoor season in the rearview mirror, the focus shifts to the outdoor season. The Cedar Rapids Rampage United will begin their second year in the Premier League of America this summer at their new home in Kingston Stadium. The club qualified for the PLA playoffs in its first season with a 5-1-4 record.

“Right now we are starting to put a team together for the players that will stay from the indoor team,” said Moreira, who will be coach-only of the outdoor team for the second year in a row. “Then we will have tryouts to supplement.”

The 2017 Rampage United schedule is expected to be released any day, and tryouts are tentatively scheduled for mid-April.

l Comments: douglas.miles@thegazette.com

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