CEDAR RAPIDS — When it comes to playoff experience, the Cedar Rapids Rampage are at a decided disadvantage.
As the third-year indoor soccer franchise gets a first taste of playoff soccer Saturday, their opponent touts six championships and has missed the playoffs just once in the last quarter-century.
“That’s going to be all-out craziness,” said Cedar Rapids Coach Ante Cop, who will lead the Rampage into the first game of the Major Arena Soccer League Divisional Championship playoff series against the Milwaukee Wave Saturday at 12:05 p.m. at The Odeum Expo Center in Villa Park, Ill. “They’re going to be hungry. We have to match their hunger, we have to match their experience in the playoffs, which obviously we’re not going to be able to, but we’re going to have to match them physically and that hunger to move on to that Eastern Conference final.”
Cedar Rapids finished the regular season at 11-11, which netted the second playoff spot in the MASL Central Division, six games behind first-place Milwaukee (17-5). The Rampage were forced to find another venue for Game 1 due to a scheduling conflict with the U.S. Cellular Center, which is hosting the NCAA Division II wrestling championships.
With so many Illinois natives on the roster, a move to the home of the Chicago Mustangs MASL2 team seemed like the next best thing.
“Half our guys are from Chicago,” Rampage midfielder Gordy Gurson said. “I’ve been playing at that arena since I was 18 years old, 16 years old even. It’s something that I’m familiar with and most of the guys from Chicago are, as well.”
Gurson, 25, enters the playoffs playing some of the best soccer of his three years in Cedar Rapids. Gurson finished tied for fifth in the league in goals scored (30) and nearly doubled his career high with 19 assists, which was tied for ninth in the MASL.
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“Gordy has got that nose for a goal,” Cop said. “You can’t teach that. That’s just a natural thing. He has that knack to find a little space.”
Electrifying midfielder Ian Bennett (176 goals in last four seasons) leads the attack for Milwaukee, which routed Cedar Rapids in three of the first four meetings this season by a cumulative score of 33-17. The Rampage salvaged a win in the season series Jan. 18 at the U.S. Cellular Center, 5-3.
“That’s huge,” Rampage midfielder Bobby Hurwitz said. “They beat us the first three times and getting that win gives them the thought in the back of their head that, ‘Oh, they can beat us.’ Instead of, if they beat us four times then it is mentally draining for us and it’s mentally lifting for them. The fact that we put that in the back of their mind that we can come out there and we can beat them is definitely huge for us going into two games against them.”
Sunday, the series moves to Milwaukee for Game 2. Should the teams split the two games, a 15-minute mini-game will be played immediately following the second game to decide the series.
“If we take care of the first game, I think we’ll get lucky and take care of one of the other two,” Gurson said.
The winner will advance to a one-game, winner-take-all Eastern Conference final against either Syracuse or Baltimore.
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