by Lisa Sillaway

If you caught the livestream on Facebook of yesterday's Wings-Inferno matchup there were a few things you might have noticed. First, both teams were rocking the orange on their uniforms and playing on a bright orange field in Colorado Springs, Colo. And second, that there was a lot of orange in the stands. Wichita Wings' orange - as in the Army - came to Colorado.

"We actually had more Wichita fans there than they had Inferno fans!  Pretty cool to see such support even on the road," said an excited Coach Roger Downing.

The Inferno, the last-place team in the league with a .214 winning percentage, are in the midst of a ten-game losing streak but were up to the task of testing the Wings, managing to score eight goals during the battle. Both teams will have tired legs today as they return to SoccerHaus to do battle.

"Tomorrow we will have to possess the ball even more than we did at times.  I think we did a good job tonight keeping the ball and being patient.  We can’t get in an up-and-down game with teams.  If we can control the pace, we can get a result," said Downing.

The Wings most definitely controlled the pace in the first quarter, with twice as many shots-on-goal and four balls hitting the back of the net.

Ethan Doud set things off right with a goal for the Orange at the 10:29 mark of the first quarter. It was followed in rapid succession by goals from James Togbah and Benji before the Inferno finally put a point on the scoreboard at 1:49. The Wings weren't happy with that goal and returned the favor with a Togbah-Benji stunner with 46 seconds left to play in the quarter.

Fans watching the livestream and in the stands were thrilled to see Coach Downing had the opportunity to suit up as a striker and practice what he preaches during the game. With the Wings roster depleted from injuries, Downing stepped in and earned himself an assist to the next goal, again from Togbah, at the top of the second followed by his own goal minutes later on a feed from Daniel Sack. The teams played a hard-fought second quarter with the Wings still leading 7-3 heading into half time.

It was the third quarter when things got a bit dicey for the fans who made the long trek to Colorado  Springs.  The Inferno scored the next three goals  to get back into the game all before the 11-minute mark.

"I thought when we got a solid lead, we let down on staying tight to our marks and let them back in the game.  It’s crucial when we have a lead that we up our focus even more," said Downing.

The men in Orange decided to take back control of the pitch and put on their own scoring masterclass with unassisted goals from Peter Espinosa, Downing and Uzi Tayou rounding out the third. The Inferno were able to control the ball somewhat in the fourth and final quarter with 14 shots on goal and two goals, but it wasn't enough. The Wings had banked enough early goals that the second-half surge was unsuccessful and the Wings finished with an unassisted goal from Benji - his third for the game - and a win, 11-8.

"Benji did get a hat trick tonight, we put him up at the target to give him some more space to operate and he was effective," said Downing.

Also effective in Saturday night's matchup was fan favorite Steven "The Lawman" Hamersky, who faced down an aggressive offense from the Inferno with 14 saves in the night. Daniel Sack and Kevin Ten Eyck, along with Espinosa provided an effective wall of defense in front of the keeper.

The team needs to repeat the win, today.

"The Wings are still trying to win the supporter shield which goes to the team who finishes first in the regular season," explained owner Blake Shumaker.

The Wings have won seven games in the Covid-impacted season, with just two losses and a strong winning percentage. The .778 number leaves them sitting atop the league.

In addition, the Wings clinched the Heartland Invitational which also earned them a postseason berth. For this year, the winners of the three invitationals held during the 2021 season automatically earned postseason berths, as will the team remaining that hasn’t won an M2 tournament which has the highest winning percentage. 

This means the Amarillo Bombers, have secured their spots in M2’s postseason, having already won the Rocky Mountain Invitational and Cleveland's Crunch with their Great Lakes Invitational win. The fourth team is the Chicago Mustangs.

"We’re already in playoffs, but seeding is important. If we win out we will be the top seed and we want that for our fans," added Shumaker.

The playoffs, fans may have heard, are all slated to take place at the Wings' home turf - Hartman Arena in Park City, Kan. And that brings the Wings' not-so-secret weapon into play, The Orange Army.

"The boys feed off of our fans - I know it’s cliche to say in Kansas, but “there's no place like home,'" said Downing.

Staging the semi-finals and finals in one location during just one weekend is unconventional for an unconventional season, but a good solution, said Commissioner Chris Economides.

“This format, while we appreciate it is unconventional, brings us the ability to plan for a playoffs that still insures the most competitive and representative field of teams possible,” Economides said. “We have all had to make significant adjustments to make sure we are able to continue our regular season and reward those teams that most deserve a chance to play for an M2 championship. Adding certainty --- because we know there are still uncertainties ahead as we all work to end this country’s pandemic – made the most sense to all our teams who are very comfortable with this one-year solution to crowning a champion.”

Technicalities aside, the team is ready and excited to host the playoffs at home.

"The playoffs are going to be a blast," said Downing. " I’m personally excited not just for the Wings, but to watch the other games as well.  We will have four quality teams playing who all have aspirations to play at the next level.  This is the most talent you will see on an indoor field all year." 


Tickets are already available for the championship weekend. Click for more information.  

The Wichita Wings are presented by Family Mitsubishi and the City of Park City, Kan.