RICHFIELD, Ohio -- It's wait-and-see time for the Baltimor Blast, whose record string of 10 straight Major Soccer League playoff appearances will end today if the Wichita Wings beat the St. Louis Storm.
Baltimore is in that position because of a 6-5 loss to the Cleveland Crunch last night at the Richfield Coliseum in its final regular-season game
The Wings-Storm game begins at 4:05 this afternoon (HTS). If Wichita loses, Baltimore will open the playoffs Friday night at Kansas City. A Wichita win would leave the two teams tied, but the Wings would make the playoffs because they won the season series from the Blast.
The deciding goal came with 1 minute, 39 seconds remaining when the Crunch's Dave Hoggan scored from the top of arc on a power play. Baltimore's Joe Barger had been sent off for tripping to set up the man-advantage situation.
After the goal, Baltimore went to Billy Ronson as a sixth attacker, but couldn't tie it.
The Blast (21-31), which lost eight of its past nine games, including seven by one goal, dominated the action in the opening quarter. If not for some tough bounces (Ronson and Domenic Mobilio each hit the inside of the post) and Crunch goalie P.J. Johns, who made several big saves, it could have been up by four of five goals after the break.
The margin was just one, however, as Dale Mitchell took a pass from Mobilio and rolled a shot in after avoiding a sliding tackle try by Cleveland's Joe Koziol.
The Crunch quickly evened things as Gregg Willin ripped in the rebound of a Koziol shot that Baltimore goalie Scott Manning couldn't contain just 25 seconds into the second period.
The Blast then wasted a power-play chance after Bernie James was sent off for boarding.
Cleveland, however, took advantage of an opportunity in the same situation when Mike Stankovic was called for holding as Marco Rizi out-maneuvered two defenders before beating Manning.
It became 3-1 midway through stanza when Michael King took a restart pass from Ali Kazemaini and planted a shot in the back of the net.
Baltimore quickly tied things after the intermission as Bruce Savage and David Vaudreuil tallied at the 39-second and 4:41 marks.
The Crunch went back ahead just 37 seconds later, though, as King tapped in the rebound of a Willin shot.
With just 1:54 left in the quarter, the Blast squared things again as Mobilio had a shot go off the foot of Cleveland defender Bernie James into the net.
The teams then traded goals as Rudy Pikuzinski scored for Cleveland and Mitchell for the Blast to set up Hoggan's game-winner.