by Pete Richmire

ONTARIO, CA. - Though it may not have been a big road win based on the 4-3 score, the Tacoma Stars (12-10-1) needed to pick up points headed to the final weekend of the regular season, and they walked away with three in their win over the Empire Strykers (12-8-3). Following the game it was time to watch the Mesquite Outlaws finish their game in Mexico against the Chihuahua Savage. If the Outlaws were to lose in regulation, both the Strykers and Stars would have clinched playoff spots. Instead, the game went to overtime and the Western Conference will indeed come down to the final two days of the campaign.

Tacoma came into this game on the heels of a loss in Texas to the Dallas Sidekicks. The Stars jumped out to a quick 1-0 lead when Cory Keitz scored on a nifty give-and-go with Nick Perera to put Tacoma up just under two minutes into the game. 

After Justin Stinson scored for Empire to level the game at 1-1, Perera notched his second assist of the game on a true Goal of the Year candidate by Mike Ramos. Perera, controlling the ball in the right corner, chipped a high pass to the far post and Ramos executed a perfect bicycle kick to beat Empire keeper Chris Toth for the 2-1 lead, a score they took to halftime.

After Tacoma's Jamael Cox and the MASL leading goal scorer, Empire's Franck Tayou swapped goals in the 3rd quarter, Kyle Rivers netted the eventual game-winner for the Stars with 2:58 to play in the 3rd.

The Strykers were able to get a goal back but it was just too late, coming off the foot of Jesus Pacheco with 16 seconds to go in the game. 

In the winning effort, Tacoma keeper Danny Waltman stopped 12 of 15 shots to claim his 12th win of the season.

All four teams in the Western Conference playoff hunt have one game remaining. Two of them will square off on Saturday when the Strykers travel to Mesquite to face the Outlaws. The Stars will conclude their regular-season schedule the same day with a trip a bit further south in California to play the San Diego Sockers.  The final conference playoff seeding could come down to Sunday when the Monterrey Flash host Dallas.

All games are available to watch live on MASL TV's Twitch channels.