The Baltimore Blast seemed to have this game wrapped up and tucked away for the new year. It had a 3-0 lead going into the fourth quarter last night. The way goalkeeper Cris Vaccaro was making saves and the team as a whole was playing defense, it looked as if the Blast would celebrate the Major Soccer League's first shutout of the season.
Its defense was working so well that the San Diego Sockers knew they were in a fix.
But after San Diego midfielder Jacques Ladouceur had made a banzai run down the left side of the field to be in the perfect position to sock away a Tim Wittman rebound for a 4-3 overtime victory at the Baltimore Arena, the Sockers and the Blast were left in disbelief.
"I don't think we know what we did to win this," said San Diego defender Kevin Crow, as his teammates sat around the locker room debating just what magic they had worked.
"The Blast played the toughest defensive formation they've ever used against us," said San Diego coach Ron Newman. "Every one of them played with so much discipline we couldn't get anything going. It wasn't until we changed our tactics and started bouncing the ball off the boards that we were able to open it up."
The loss drops the Blast two games below .500, 3 1/2 games out of first place and half-game ahead of the Cleveland Crunch in fourth place. San Diego climbs to one game out of first.
It was a difficult loss for the Blast at home, where the team is 3-5 this season.
"It wasn't our plan to sit on that lead," said Blast coach Kenny Cooper. "We tried to get out and attack, but we couldn't. But we had great chances and just couldn't put the ball away."
That will force Cooper onto the telephone today, as he tries to find a midfielder to make up for Mike Stankovic, who is out for the rest of the season after knee surgery.
Cooper contacted former Cleveland midfielder Mike Sweeney during the weekend and will continue to try to talk him out of retirement.
"He'd be perfect with this team," Cooper said. "We just need someone in the middle to increase our goal scoring."
The Blast had its chances in the third quarter to expand its 3-0 lead. But when the opportunities came, the Blast couldn't put the shots away, as San Diego keeper Victor Nogueira (10 saves) came up big on the big shots.
When the Blast failed to press its advantage in the fourth quarter, choosing to clear the ball from its end of the field, San Diego found its form.
First, Wittman nudged a ball around Blast defender Mark Mettrick to Ben Collins, who was able to beat a falling Joe Koziol with 1 minute, 20 seconds gone in the final quarter.
Then Collins got Vaccaro to drift to his left as he sent the ball across the box to Paul Wright, who took a high shot just out of the reach of a scissor-kick save attempt thrown by a sliding Rusty Troy.
When Paul Dougherty slammed the third goal home with a minute to play in regulation, the Blast sensed it was in trouble.
"For 45 minutes, we were unbelievable controlling the ball, working hard defensively, staying with the runners," said Blast forward Domenic Mobilio, who had scored on a power play in the second quarter. "In that fourth quarter, it wasn't anything they did differently. We just stopped. We just cleared it out and let them come at us. We have to play to our strengths, and in the end we didn't do that. This is so sad. We do everything we're supposed to do on the road and then come home and let this happen. This was our game."
"It was a typical Blast win," said San Diego midfielder Brian Quinn of the Sockers' victory. "They're always coming from behind, pulling the goalkeeper and getting the bounce. The last time we played here, we were up 5-3 at halftime and they stole it from us. Now we've turned the tables."
While Cooper agreed with Quinn's assessment, Mettrick wasn't buying it.
"To me, it was a typical San Diego victory," he said. "They came through when it mattered."
The Blast started the game strong, taking a 1-0 lead with 7:25 to play in the first quarter, when Koziol sent a 10-foot shot to the far post and saw the ball ricochet into the net.
The early goal kept San Diego from packing in its defense, thus opening more space for the Blast offense in the second quarter.
An intentional handball call on Victor Nogueira 49 seconds into the quarter set up a power-play opportunity for Baltimore. Billy Ronson took a free kick, passing the ball to Mobilio, who drove it home for a 2-0 lead.
San Diego 0 0 0 3 1 -- 4
Baltimore 1 2 0 0 0 -- 3
First quarter--1 Balt., Kozio 11 (Troy), 7:35. Penalties--Collins, SD (tripping), 3:57.
Second quarter--2 Balt., Mobilio 20 (Ronson), pp, 0:51; 3 Balt., Ronson 10 (Kelderman), 7:23. Penalties--Nogueira, S.D. (intentional handball), 0:49.
Third quarter--None. Penalties--None.
Fourth quarter--4 S.D. Collins 5 (Wittman), 1:20; 5 S.D. Wright 20 (Collins), 8:29; 6 S.D. Dougherty 8 (Wright), 14:00. Penalties--None.
Overtime--7 S.D. Ladouceur 12 (Wittman), 1:36. Penalties--None.
Shots on goal--San Diego 6-2-11-14--1-- 34; Baltimore--1-6-7-6--2--22. Saves--San Diego, Nogueira 10; Baltimore, Vaccaro 16. Referees--Joe Manfre, Paul Dominguez and Paul Tamberino. A--6,907.