By Ellen Fishel, The Baltimore Sun
5:48 PM EDT, March 15, 2013
Ed Hale knows what a championship team looks like. After all, he's seen the Blast bring home five of its six Major Indoor Soccer League titles since he became owner of the team.
So he's not hesitant in laying out his expectations for a Blast squad that's hoping to bring home its first MISL championship since 2009 on Saturday night against the Missouri Comets.
"We fully expect to win," Hale said. "No ifs, ands or buts about it."
After winning the first game of the series in Missouri on Thursday, 21-12, the Blast could accomplish that task with a victory Saturday. If Missouri wins, the teams will play a 15-minute mini-game tie-breaker to determine the champion.
Going into the championship series, the Blast had reason to mirror its owner's confidence. Missouri knocked out two-time defending league champion Milwaukee Wave — which was widely expected to be in the final round — in the semifinals.
So instead of facing the team it barely edged out for the regular-season championship, the Blast will face a .500 team that it beat in three out of four meetings this season. But coach Danny Kelly and his players refuse to underestimate their opponent.
"To be honest [the playoffs are] a completely new season, and they proved they were the better team against Milwaukee, and we've got to prepare for Missouri," Kelly said. "There's no us looking at them and taking them lightly, looking at them like they're a team that's not worthy of being there. They earned their right to be there."
Missouri lost the first game of the semifinals against Milwaukee in overtime, but then came back to win the second matchup, scoring with 32 seconds to go. In similar fashion, the Comets scored the winning goal with five seconds left.
So although the Blast had a decisive victory Thursday, with help from a Tony Donatelli hat trick and William Vanzela's 18 saves, the team knows it can't count the Comets out yet.
"Our goal is to lift a trophy, win a championship. And we haven't done that yet," Kelly said.
In order to make that happen, the Blast needs to stay strong on defense and make sure not to let the Comets get an early lead, defender Mike Lookingland said.
"We have the ability to put up a lot of points too, but we definitely don't want to be playing catch up to a team that can put in a lot of goals," Lookingland said.
Missouri has the league's No. 5, 6 and 8 scorers in Byron Alvarez, Vahid Assadpour and Leo Gibson. The Blast was able to shut down the trio Thursday, holding Alvarez to two goals and Gibson to one.
The defense, led by MISL Defender of the Year Lookingland, has been key all season. Hale even said it the best he's seen in his more than decade-long association with the Blast.
Kelly said the team just needs to continue doing what worked so well in the Blast's 21-5 regular season.
"It's been by committee. Everybody contributed and scored goals," said Kelly, who was named league Coach of the Year. "We just can't get away from what got us to this point."
Half of the Blast's 18 players on the roster this year were rookies or second-year players, while Missouri has a core group that has been playing together for a few years. But the mix of veterans and newcomers has fostered a positive team chemistry that's led to success on the field.
Lookingland, who is in his seventh season with the Blast, said he thinks this team has the potential to "go down as one of the best Blast teams" in history.
But no matter how successful the regular season, the Blast won't be satisfied until it brings a trophy home to Baltimore.
"To win it in front of your family, your friends, just to host the trophy, it's just a great feeling to say you won," said defender Pat Healey. "That's the ultimate goal. You work all year — the long runs, every day of practice — to win that trophy. And that's all that matters."
Missouri Comets at Blast
What: MISL championship Game 2
When: Saturday, 7:35 p.m.
Site: 1st Mariner Arena
Outlook: In Thursday's series opener, the Blast jumped all over the host Comets to coast to a 21-12 victory and move one win away from the championship. Tony Donatelli opened the scoring 27 seconds into the game and the Blast built a 14-2 halftime lead that was only mildly challenged by the Comets in the second half. Balanced scoring, an asset for the Blast all season, was again at the forefront with Donatelli scoring three goals and Audeto Neto, Ptah Myers and Machel Millwood each adding two in the win. The Blast appears poised to bring Baltimore its seventh professional indoor soccer championship with a win Saturday. The Blast organization is asking all fans in attendance to wear red in support of the home team.
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