Blast (21-5) at Chicago Soul (11-15)
What: MISL semifinals Game 1
When: Tuesday, 8:30 p.m.
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Site: Odeum Sports & Expo Center in Villa Park, Ill.
Outlook: Baltimore won its last six games in the regular season to claim first place and the top seed in the Major Indoor Soccer League playoffs.
In the semifinals, the Blast plays the fourth-seeded Soul, which has proven to be a formidable opponent. The two teams will play a home-and-home series — the second game is scheduled for 7:35 p.m. Saturday night at 1st Mariner Arena. If the teams split the two games, a 15-minute mini game will immediately follow the second game to determine which team advances to the championship series.
Despite the considerable difference in records — the Blast finished 10 games ahead of the fourth-place Soul — the series could be competitive. The teams split four games during the regular season, with the Soul winning the last two at home.
Blast coach Danny Kelly said his team simply didn't play good soccer in the two losses, but despite that, still had opportunities to win both games. Those setbacks, and the Blast's strong finish to the regular season, are in the past.
"Entering the playoffs, the playing field is level and the regular season is out the window," Kelly said. "Our mentality is good right now. I told the guys in practice [Sunday morning] that this is the time, this is what you play for."
Blast leading scorer Machel Millwood (59 points) and Tony Donatelli (47 points) will return to the lineup after being hampered by hamstring injuries at the end of the regular season. The Blast have relied on a balanced offense, with Lucio Gonzaga (58 points) playing well in the second half of the season.
Defensvely, rookie goalkeeper William Vanzela led the league with 16 wins and finished second with a 8.72 points against average. The Blast's primary concern on defense will be containing Soul veteran Carlos 'Chile' Farias, who finished fourth in the regular season with 78 points.
"He's one of the most talented guys in the league and can change a game at the drop of a hat with his ability to shoot and pass," Kelly said.
Carlos Munoz, Bato Radoncic and Matt Stewart provide Farias with a potent supporting cast for Chicago. Soul goalkeeper Jeff Ritche went 10-13 with an 11.88 points against average.
The two-time defending champion Milwaukee Wave earned the second seed and will meet the third-seeded Missouri Comets in the other semifinal. That series starts Thursday in Missouri.