MLIS 2022-23 Playoff Preview

The first Major League Indoor Soccer Playoffs get underway this Saturday, in what is sure to be a sold out Soccer Sportsplex in North Olmsted, Ohio.

The Cleveland Crunch will host the Chicago Mustangs as the two wild card teams fight for a spot in the MLIS Final Four, April 1 and 2 at Grand Sports Arena in Chicago. The winner of Saturday's game will face the top-seeded Omaha Kings in one of two semifinal games on April 1. The other semifinal is already set with the Houston Bolt gearing up to meet Rapid City FC. The MLIS Championship will be decided on April 2.

All three rounds are single elimination.

Omaha Kings - Central Division Champions
Head Coach: Emmanuel Viel
Overall Record: 10-1
Home Record: 5-0
Away Record: 5-1
Goals For: 114 (10.36 goals per game)
Goals Against: 57 (5.18 goals allowed per game)
Previous Meetings: 3-1 vs. Chicago (5-2 lifetime including M2)

The Kings went undefeated until a one-goal loss to Chicago on March 5, but beat the Mustangs on March 11 to clinch the division. Manuel Lira is Omaha's leading scorer and the MLIS leader in goals (30) and points (52). Lira is one of 10 Kings averaging at least a point a game, but his dominance can't be overstated. Lira was named First or Second Star in 10 of Omaha's 11 games, and he has nine multi-goal games and six hat tricks on the season. Defensively, the Kings are led by defender Morgan Penn, and goalkeeper Efren Flores (10-1, 5.21 GAA).

Rapid City FC - Eastern Division Champions
Head Coach: Louis Stephens III
Overall Record: 10-2
Home Record: 5-1
Away Record: 5-1
Goals For: 132 (11.00 goals per game)
Goals Against: 70 (5.83 goals allowed per game)
Previous Meetings: 2-2 vs. Cleveland

Grand Rapids' Rapid City FC, riding a seven-game winning streak, might be the playoffs' hottest team. After losing to Cleveland twice, Rapid City took the final two games of the season series to leapfrog into first place. Nermin Crnkic, the first player signed to an MLIS contract, was a consistent scoring threat and led Grand Rapids with 19 goals and 28 points. Equally key were several midseason acquisitions including TJ Ifaturoti (26 points in 8 games), Elmedin Zukic (23 points in 6 games), and Alexis Mendez (17 points in 5 games). Jay Toric (7-0, 5.75 GAA) took over the team's starting spot at goalkeeper and has yet to lose. Lito Esquivel and Giuseppe Barone, who was a third round pick in the 2021 MLS SuperDraft, have been keeping the offense humming. Chris Mendez has also had a late season breakout for Rapid City.

Houston Bolt - Southern Division Champions
Head Coach: Rafael Lopez
Overall Record: 9-3
Home Record: 4-2
Away Record: 5-1
Goals For: 128 (10.66 goals per game)
Goals Against: 77 (6.42 goals allowed per game)
Previous Meetings: N/A

The Bolt got hot down the stretch, winning their final five games, including rallying from a 4-0 deficit to beat Wichita to clinch the division on March 11. Houston will have been off for three weeks when they face Grand Rapids on April 1. Gabe Enciso, a midseason call-up from the PASL, has entrenched himself as the starting goalkeeper, going 7-0 since his arrival. Offensively Jeminson Mejia and Lucio Martinez did most of the heavy lifting this season, but Irvin Ramirez showed off some fancy footwork in a late season surge and David Brown had 12 goals in only six games.

Cleveland Crunch - Wild Card
Head Coach: Benny Dargle
Overall Record: 9-3
Home Record: 5-1
Away Record: 4-2
Goals For: 134 (11.17 goals per game)
Goals Against: 69 (5.75 goals allowed per game)
Previous Meetings: 2-2 vs. Grand Rapids, 6-1 vs. Chicago (M2)

The Crunch won the M2 Championship in 2021 and went undefeated last year before falling in the M2 Championship to San Diego Sockers 2. Cleveland has only lost one game in three seasons at home, where they enjoy league-best fan support. Admir Suljevic was the only other MLIS player to surpass 50 points, and is deadly on restarts. Mikey Derezic was second on the team in points-per-game with 22 points in only seven games. Tom Beck was second on the Crunch with 21 goals. Dave Jordan is possibly the best two-way player in MLIS and had 25 points coming out of the back. Goalkeeper Marijo Musa was 5-1 with a 5.85 GAA and is as cool as they come handling the ball, leading all goalies with four assists. Twenty-one-year old Parker Csiszar has been turning heads with 13 points in seven games.

Chicago Mustangs - Wild Card
Head Coach: Armando Gamboa
Overall Record: 9-3
Home Record: 5-1
Away Record: 4-2
Goals For: 90 (8.18 goals per game)
Goals Against: 59 (5.36 goals allowed per game)
Previous Meetings: 1-3 vs. Omaha (2-5 lifetime including M2),  1-6 vs. Cleveland (M2)

The Mustangs were the 2017-18 M2 champions, but only Alonso Sandoval, who is not on the playoff roster, Jose Resendiz, who is suspended, and Noe Centeno, remain from that roster. Chicago counts on a team-based offense led by Michael Marchionna and Luis Batalla's healthy-but-unspectacular 21 points each. The Mustangs are a distant fifth among the playoff teams in goals scored per game, but have the second best defense. In the nets, the Mustangs received equal starts from Resendiz and Ricardo Porcayo, with Porcayo absorbing two of the team's three losses, but posting a superior 5.01 GAA.