It used to be when a guy scored four goals in a Major Soccer League game, everyone made a big deal of it. But when Blast forward Dale Mitchell did that last night in a 10-6 victory over the Cleveland Crunch, no one seemed very surprised.
There are two very good reasons for that.
One is Mitchell and his reputation for scoring.
The other is the MSL's major increase in scoring, which could make four-goal nights a common occurrence. Blast forward Domenic Mobilio had four goals Saturday. Cleveland's Hector Marinaro also had four goals last night.
But there were several wonderful things about Mitchell's performance that set it apart from all the others. For one, it was his first big night as a member of the Blast. For another, no two of his goals were alike. It was a kind of dissertation in the art of scoring.
"Dale gives us a whole different dimension," said Blast coach Kenny Cooper.
The first Mitchell goal came on a two-on-one break, when a pass from Mitchell to forward Tim Wittman hit Cleveland defender Bernie James and bounced back to Mitchell, who edged it past the outstretched fingertips of goalkeeper P.J. Johns. It was the last of six unanswered second-quarter Blast goals, which put Baltimore ahead 6-1.
The second, which was team goal No. 7, turned out to be the game-winner. It came with 2:41 to go in the second quarter on a power play set up by a pass from midfielder Richard Chinapoo (two goals, one assist). Then came a short-handed number off a pass from defender Bruce Savage (one goal, one assist).
And on the last one, he was one-on-one with Crunch defender George Fernandez, who was playing as the sixth attacker, with 2:07 to play. Mitchell hit the ball, slightly off the mark and the ball bounced back to him off the glass.
"I headed it in, like I knew what I was doing," said Mitchell, who also assisted on a goal by Mike Reynolds. "But I really didn't know what I was doing."
No one on either team was buying that afterward.
"Mitchell is Mitchell," said Fernandez. "He was always open, for whatever reason, and he put it in the net. You give him a shot at the goalkeeper, nine times out of 10, he's going to make it. He played a good game, but our team defense right now is nonexistent."
The victory enabled the Blast (2-2) to move out of the Eastern Division basement, where Cleveland (1-2) now resides.
"I think, no matter what I've done in the past, I have to prove I can still do it," said Mitchell, 32, the MSL's most prolific scorer the past four years. "This performance gives me confidence I can fit in here and help this team to the championship. I've never played in an MSL final and I'd like to."
While the Blast relished its victory, Cleveland coach Kai Haaskivi had his team sequestered for more than 15 minutes. But when he opened the doors, all Haaskivi could talk about was how different the game is in the Arena, where 4,370 witnessed another goal rush.
"When we came here before, this arena was a little different," said Haaskivi, the player/coach who did not play last night due to a strained knee. "Now it is wilder still. There could be 10 goals in every quarter."
Asked specifically about Mitchell's performance, the coach rolled his eyes to the heavens.
"Mitchell had four goals?" he repeated. "You could tell me any one of them had four goals and I'd believe you. It is crazy. It used to be you could keep up with the scoring a little bit, but now -- there were 16 goals scored in this game. First team to 10 wins. Mitchell? He played like the rest of the Blast. He played like crazy."
Blast midfielder Billy Ronson continued his excellent work with two goals and one assist, which moves him into a second-place tie with Wichita's Dale Ervine on the MSL's scoring list.
Goalkeeper Scoop Stanisic made 16 saves and got the victory; P.J. Johns made only five and took the loss.
Besides Marinaro, Cleveland got goals from Fernandez (short-handed) and Andy Schmetzer (power play).
The Blast will have a "guest detonator" for its pre-game opening Saturday, when Kansas City is here for a 7:35 p.m. game. Gov. William Donald Schaefer will celebrate his birthday by igniting the pre-game show.