Ian Bennett becomes first Tropics player in history to earn MASL Most Valuable Player honors

by Brian Ackley

LAKELAND, Florida – In a career that’s covered 325 games, lasted 13 seasons, and has featured 440 goals, one thing has always eluded indoor soccer superstar Ian Bennett. That is, until now.

Bennett has been named the Major Arena Soccer League’s Most Valuable Player for the Covid-19 shortened season, the first time he has ever earned that honor.

“IB 26” as he is affectionately known started his professional indoor career with the Chicago Storm in the 2007-08 season, and after two years in the Windy City, he moved on to the Milwaukee Wave, where he has played ever since. 

Because the Wave made the decision to not field a team this winter, Bennett was allowed to sign with another MASL team for this current season only. He was one of many league stars who played on loan to the seven league teams that did play in 2021.

He led the MASL this year in goals (19),  assists (8) and total points (27).

“When we reached out to Ian about being part of our organization, we knew of his capabilities, but how they fit into a new team, you never know. But he did a great job of stepping into this moment and making the most of it, and making it his own as well. His impact throughout the year has been tremendous,” Coach Clay Roberts said.

Roberts noted that Bennett’s contributions came off the field as well.

“His work ethic is extremely high. He’s one of the oldest players on our roster, but one of the most committed to fitness off the field, and healthy lifestyle, and that impacts his way of playing,” Roberts added. “His dedication and discipline is a benchmark for players understanding what it takes to get to his level.”

Bennett was named a 2021 First Team All MASL selection earlier in the week, the fourth time in the last five seasons he has gotten that accolade. But, almost surprisingly, he had never been named league MVP despite his spectacular play and offensive output. He is also the first Tropics player to be named league MVP as well. 

“I don’t go chasing individual awards. I go chasing championships,” Bennett said. “And obviously, if individual awards happen, then that’s awesome. But that’s not my first thing. Winning it, all the credit goes to my teammates and the coach, the staff and owner for making it even possible to bring me down to Florida. They gave me a great opportunity, and the stuff they did for me, it’s a testament to their standards and what they’re building that made me play so well, to be honest. It was a great feeling. They made me feel part of it since day one. It was comfortable for me, and that’s why I was able to do my thing.”

The Tropics went 10-3 in the regular season – after winning the Eastern Conference championship two years ago with an 18-3 mark before the remainder of the regular season and playoffs were canceled by the pandemic – and earned an automatic berth to the league’s semi-finals earlier this month when they bowed out in two games against the San Diego Sockers.

Bennett said the league should be taking notice of what is happening in Central Florida.

“I just loved it. Florida does it so professional down there. They make sure the players have everything they need to be successful. That’s a huge part of being a successful player is having that professionalism on the field and off the field. The set up is top notch and you have an owner and a coach that really cares, that is really passionate about the indoor game which is great to see, and a bunch of players who want to be there. They’re turning a real good page, setting the standard, and I think they’re on course to win a championship. They’re really setting the tone. And when they win it, they're going to do it right.”

The Tropics will be back for a sixth season in the MASL late next fall at the RP Funding Center. The league will crown its 2021 champion next weekend when the Sockers meet the Ontario Fury in a two-game series April 15 and 17 in Ontario, California.  For more information on the league, visit www.maslsoccer.com, or www.fltropics.com.