The Blast has the ideal primer for the upcoming Major Indoor Soccer League playoffs as the team closes out its regular season at 1st Mariner Arena on Saturday — a game against the two-time defending league champion Milwaukee Wave.
The rivalry is far and away the best and most intense in the MISL, with all the other franchises too new to have developed any on the same level.
And this game — set for 7:35 p.m. — has plenty on the line with the teams tied for first place in the league.
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"It's always a big game between these two clubs. They've won the past two championships, and that's something where we want to get back to," Blast coach Danny Kelly said. "We have a lot of respect for them, but want to win every time we play them."
The Blast enters the game with a 20-5 record, while the Wave are 18-3 with four games still to play before the regular season concludes on March 3. If the Blast wins Saturday, it would only need the Wave to lose one of its remaining games to finish in first place and earn the top seed in the playoffs.
"You always want to end the season playing your best soccer to get on a roll for the playoffs and get that momentum. And any time you play Milwaukee — whether it's the beginning of the year or end of the year — you just always want to beat them," Blast defender Pat Healey said.
The Blast has won five straight and eight of nine to get back into the competition for first place. With a two-week layoff before the playoffs — the team will open at home on March 9 as either the top or second seed — Kelly said it's important to go into the postseason with a quality game against the Wave, and a win would provide icing on the cake.
In the first three meetings between the teams this season, the Blast comfortably beat the Wave, 15-4, on Nov. 16 at home before losing two tight games at Milwaukee by a combined three points. If the Blast win on Saturday to split the season series, it would have the second tiebreaker on head-to-head goal differential if both teams finish with five losses.
With the third-place Missouri Comets under .500 with an 11-12 record, the Blast and Wave have again separated themselves from the rest of the league, and the teams appear to be on a path to again meet in the championship series.
"I think we're built the same way," Healey said. "We're both good defensive teams that also have the flare and offensive ability to put teams away whenever you need to. The teams are patterned the same way with two fiery coaches and the same philosophies, and that's why it's often us and Milwaukee at the end."
Kelly said Blast leading scorer Machel Millwood and fellow forward Tony Donatelli — both dealing with hamstring injuries — may have a chance to return to the lineup, but the team will likely keep them sidelined to make sure they are at full speed for the playoffs.
Milwaukee Wave at Blast
When: Saturday, 7:35 p.m.
Site: 1st Mariner Arena