ST. LOUIS -- It hasn't taken long for the St. Louis Storm to blow its way to the top of the Major Soccer League.
In its second year of existence, the Storm is leading the league in scoring and battling MSL champion San Diego for first place in the Western Division. About the only thing the Storm hadn't been able to do is beat the Baltimore Blast.
Until last night.
St. Louis, which entered the game with an 0-10 lifetime record against the Blast, got a goal and three assists from Preki as the Storm (21-13) held off a furious Blast comeback to win, 6-5. The loss was the fifth straight on the road for Baltimore, which has dropped four of its past five games overall and is back to the .500 mark at 17-17.
The defeat, coupled with Kansas City's 9-5 win over San Diego last night, leaves the Blast 2 1/2 games back of the Comets in the Eastern Division. Baltimore will have a chance to cut that lead by a game tomorrow when it plays host to Kansas City.
"It's very simple. We have to win our next three games, and I think we're perfectly capable of doing that," the Blast's Billy Ronson said.
The St. Louis fans seemed to be well aware of the Storm's misfortunes against the Blast over the past year and a half. Those who weren't were apprised of the situation upon entering the St. Louis Arena as the Storm management passed out "Lucky Cards" to help the Storm break the Baltimore hex.
St. Louis led 3-2 after one half and kept the pressure on Blast goalkeeper Scott Manning for nearly the entire third quarter. The Storm outshot Baltimore, which has given up the most goals in the MSL, 10-4, that quarter but Manning kept his team in the game with some stellar play.
David Eise gave the Storm a two-goal advantage 3 minutes, 56 seconds into the third quarter when he scored off a backboards pass from Godfrey Ingram. The goal, Eise's second of the season, was the only one in the quarter.
Preki raised the lead when he scored his 47th goal of the season off an assist from Daryl Doran at 8:36 of the quarter. Baltimore coach Kenny Cooper then pulled Manning in favor of a sixth attacker, but Brian Schmetzer scored his second goal of the game less than a minute later to make it 6-2.
Cooper kept sixth man Ronson in the game and it paid off. Rusty Troy scored his second goal of the game on a headball at 11:32 and Ronson put the Blast within two with a goal at 12:38.
"We've never been afraid to roll the dice and gamble. We're very confident with the sixth man. We got three goals tonight and just came up short," Cooper said.
Ronson said: "We've had success in the past on the sixth attacker against St. Louis, and we almost did again tonight. The ball was down in their end at the end. It just didn't go in."
Tim Wittman really made it interesting when he scored at 13:20 to make it 6-5. That was as close as Baltimore would get, though, as goalie Zoltan Toth and the Storm held on for the win.
"It was a great comeback, a fantastic comeback. With most teams, they would have given up with the score 6-2 with only a few minutes to go, but not the Blast team. We battled all the way and almost pulled it off."
After a sluggish start, the teams opened up for three goals in the final five minutes of the first quarter.
Schmetzer scored at 10:35 off an assist by Preki, but Baltimore tied it less than a minute later when Dale Mitchell found Troy wide open in the slot and Troy tapped it past Toth for his 21st goal of the season.
Baltimore.. .. .. 1... 1... 0...3... --... 5
St. Louis.. .. .. 2... 1... 1...2... --... 6
First quarter--1. St. Louis, Schmetzer 6 (Preki), 10:35; 2. Baltimore, Troy 21 (Mitchell), 11:28; 3. St. Louis, Brown 13 (Preki), 13:36. Penalties--Usiyan, St. L, (misconduct), 9:44.
Second quarter--4. St. Louis, Usiyan 47 (Preki), 1:51; 5. Baltimore, Savage 4 (Chinapoo), 12:26. Penalties--Barger, Balt., (pushing), 6:14.
Third quarter--6. St. Louis, Eise 2 (Ingram), 3:56. Penalties--none.
Fourth quarter--7. St. Louis, Preki 47 (Doran), 8:36; 8. St. Louis, Schmetzer 7 (unassisted), 9:17; 9. Baltimore, Troy 22 (Wittman), 11:32; 10. Baltimore, Ronson 26 (Chinapoo), 12:38; 11. Baltimore, Wittman 25, (Mitchell) 13:20. Penalties--none.
Shots on goal--Baltimore 4-9-4-17--34.
St. Louis 8-10-10-9--37. Goalkeepers--Baltimore, Manning (9-10), 22 saves; St. Louis, Toth (16-6), 14. A--8,573. Referees--Casey Frankewicz, Herb Silva, Phil Scaglione.