Six, for those looking for a hot little number, was the designated digit for the Baltimore Blast this weekend.
Last night, for instance, the team scored six unanswered first-half goals in 6 1/2 minutes. The last of those goals, the Blast's seventh of the game and Domenic Mobilio's team-high 30th, was the game-winner in a 9-6 victory over the Wichita Wings. It was goalkeeper Hank Henry's sixth win of the season. And, in its sixth attempt, the Blast won three straight games for the first time this season.
But most important, it has made up three full games on Kansas City since last Sunday and has pulled into a first-place tie with the Comets in the Major Soccer League's Eastern Division. In occupying the top spot for the first time since last year's final regular-season game (April 22, 1990, seems so long ago), the Blast (16-13) has gone three games over .500 for the first time and positioned itself for a strong second half.
"I dreamed about being in this position all season. It's no secret," said coach Kenny Cooper, a man noted for verbalizing his dreams. "The first half this season was a real tough schedule. Now the schedule swings in our favor."
Cooper wasn't referring to the 11 home games, 12 away allotment of his remaining schedule, but to its arrangement. The Blast, which beat Tacoma 5-3 Saturday, now faces fewer back-to-back games, the travel is easier, and there are no exhausting trips like the one to England in December to disrupt the players' body clocks.
And his team played like a dream in the first half last night, outscoring the Wings 8-2. "It's impossible to play better than we did in the first half," Cooper said. "That was the greatest half of soccer that we've ever played. The only other team I've ever seen play like that was San Diego."
But the Wings (12-16) woke everyone up, pressuring the ball and scoring four straight second-half goals to close to 8-6. Then Billy Ronson's open net goal from behind the Blast's red line with 3:45 left clinched the win and allowed the crowd of 5,827 to breathe easier.
Henry, forced to make 19 saves on 32 second-half shots, was outstanding, and has been a large contributor to the Blast's surge.
"Thank goodness," said an obviously grateful Cooper of Henry's recent play in the absence of the injured Scott Manning. "He came in here and did a tremendous job."
"We're playing well as a team," Henry said. "The wins are going to come. If we have a good defensive game, we're going to win."
And some of the other new parts of the team are starting to fit well with the old. Dale Mitchell (two goals, two assists) is scoring, passing and playing defense within the framework of Cooper's team concept.
"I give Dale all the credit in the world because he's a great goal scorer," said Cooper. "It's taken us half of the season to play to his strengths. And Timmy Wittman is playing very intelligently with him. Richard Chinapoo, since we moved him to midfield, has done a tremendous job. I've always said, 'The road to success is always under construction.' Certainly we're starting to execute the things we've been talking about."
In fact, the only downside to last night's ascension was that Angelo Panzetta felt something pop on the outside of his left knee in the fourth quarter. He was removed from the game and was to undergo magnetic resonance imaging of the knee today.
But the Blast, pulling uphill all season, is at last in first place. "The next goal is to stay there," said Cooper. "We're coming together at the right time."