Domenic Mobilio and the Baltimore Blast put aside one of the more controversial weeks in the history of the franchise last night and defeated the seven-time Major Soccer League champion San Diego Sockers, 8-7, at the Baltimore Arena.
Mobilio scored four goals to carry the Blast to its second victory in six games this season, ruining Tim Wittman's return to the Arena.
A 10-year Blast veteran, Wittman was not re-signed after a run-in with owner Ed Hale at a team meeting last March and subsequently signed with the Sockers.
All week, there was running controversy between Blast coach Kenny Cooper and midfielder Waad Hirmez, who was released yesterday. There was the on-again/off-again negotiations to sign Maryland Bays standout Jean Harbor, and the prospect of a fired-up Wittman coming to town for revenge.
Harbor was signed two hours before the game and will make his debut Saturday night against the Crunch in Cleveland.
But Mobilio and Joe Koziol (two goals, one assist) seemed oblivious to it all before 7,191 at the Arena.
Mobilio hit what proved to be the game-winner at 13 minutes, 38 seconds of the fourth quarter when he drilled in a shot from 30 feet on the right side, sending the Blast ahead, 8-6. It was the second goal of the final quarter for Mobilio, who has 11 goals and three assists in six games.
John Kerr Jr., son of Major Soccer League Players Association director John Kerr, reduced the Baltimore lead to 8-7 with 32 seconds left.
But the Blast was able to hold off the Sockers in the final seconds and escape with the victory, ending a three-game San Diego winning streak.
Wittman, who is being used as a defensive midfielder, took only two shots and had two fouls last night.
But he received a loud ovation before the game and had some signs supporting him in the stands.
"It was fun and nice to hear the crowd cheer me," said Wittman. "I didn't want to press. I just wanted to win the game. But we didn't put away our power play [0-for-2] when we were up 5-3 in the second quarter and we didn't change the pace of the game."
One sign that said "Keep Wittman. Trade Hale" was ordered removed by Blast vice president of soccer operations Drew Forrester, touching off some controversy in the stands.
Forrester said: "We have the right to have a derogatory sign removed if we want."
Forrester said he made sure that another sign remained. It said: "Baltimore. Thank you for 10 great years. Tim Wittman."
Brian Bannister of Timonium, who put up the sign chastising Hale, said: "It was down within five minutes. I had just sat down. I think somebody screwed up. The Blast fans around me didn't like it that my feelings couldn't be expressed with a sign. Wittman shouldn't have went. The people around here love him."
Joe Davis, who grew up in Herring Run where Wittman was raised, said: "When Ed Hale got rid of Tim Wittman, he ripped the heart out of the Blast."
Wittman called the removal of the sign "a joke. I didn't know they could do something like that. I know there were similar signs when David Byrne was traded."
San Diego was virtually unstoppable in the first quarter, when midfielder Paul Wright used his speed to score one goal and get two assists to help the Sockers to a 4-2 lead.
San Diego held a 5-3 lead at the end of the half before the Blast scored four straight goals to surge ahead by 7-5 at 5:54 of the fourth quarter.