CEDAR RAPIDS — If the Cedar Rapids Rampage are going to secure their first playoff spot, they will need to navigate through a daunting portion of the Major Arena Soccer League schedule.
The third-year MASL club welcomed the undefeated Milwaukee Wave to the U.S. Cellular Center Friday night, the first of three contests against the Central Division leaders over the next two weeks.
“When you want to become a championship-caliber team, you have to play against championship-caliber teams,” Rampage Coach Ante Cop said before Milwaukee defeated Cedar Rapids, 11-5. “You have to be able to go against them and prove to them that, hey, when it comes down later in the playoffs, if you’re going to take your shots, we’re going to take our shots as well.”
The teams meet again Saturday in Milwaukee.
Under Cop, Cedar Rapids (6-6) has dropped back-to-back games, the first against two-time defending MASL champion Baltimore. Despite the setbacks, the Rampage remain three full games ahead of Kansas City (2-8) for the second playoff bid in the Central Division.
“That’s one of the big things that I keep stressing to the boys,” Cop said. “You have to mature as the season goes along and you also have to mature as a player and make sure that when you get the chance to play against teams like this, you prove it to them and then you show them that, hey, we’ll be able to get you now or later on.”
An improving defense – led by new goalkeeper Rainer Hauss — may provide a key component during the latter half of the season. After allowing 66 goals through its first nine games, Hauss and the Rampage have allowed just four in the last two entering Friday night.
“I think just composure has been a lot different,” said defender Sam Guernsey, who leads the team with 10 blocked shots. “We’ve got a guy in the back, Rainer, he’s really been good. He’s been more composed and we’ve really been trying to keep the ball behind the yellow line whenever there’s a shot. We’ve struggled with that. We’ve given up a lot of goals because we lose the ball in our defensive half. I think that has gotten a lot better.”
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