Baltimore Blast forward Rusty Troy looked as if he were running for his life last night, as he sprinted down the far side of the field and got off two high-flying shots to the far post that settled comfortably into the back of the net.
Those two scores resulted in a 5-4 Blast victory over the Tacoma Stars and rejuvenated the Blast.
Baltimore (11-12) went into last night's game knowing it could go either way. Either it would win, and stay in prime contention for the final playoff spot in the Major Soccer League race, or it would lose, and drop three games below .500 and find itself in the same spot it was in a year ago, struggling to make the playoffs.
Last night's victory combined with Cleveland's 5-4 loss to the Wichita Wings lifts the Blast into fourth place, a half-game ahead of the Crunch.
"If we would have lost, it would have been a pretty deep hole, said Troy, whose first goal gave the Blast a 4-3 lead and whose second one produced the final 5-4 marging.
"This game was ours, no doubt about that," said Tacoma defender Ralph Black. "But Rusty got off two balls into the top corner. You can't say anything about our goalkeeper on plays like that. All you can do is give Rusty credit."
Tacoma, playing its third game in four days, surprised the Blast by coming out in an energetic man-to-man defense.
"We outplayed them in the first half," Black said. "They should havae been very happy going in at halftime down 2-1."
Tacoma took advantage of two Blast defensive lapses for a 2-0 lead in the second quarter and it took the Blast most of the next three quarters to catch up.
After Troy gave the Blast its final 5-4 lead, with 6 minutes and 53 seconds to play, the Blast settled down and played solid defense.
When Tacoma went to the sixth attacker with 2:05 to go, it could get nothing past the front line.
Mark Mettrick made two big blocks on shots by Ralph Black and Jim Gabarra in the last minute and Troy cleared the final shot by Gabarra as time ran out.
The intensity picked up near the end of the third quarter. With the score tied, 3-3, Tacoma's Mark Karpun and Blast midfielder Billy Ronson got entangled near midfield, drawing penalties.
Playing four-on-four, the Blast controlled the play during the last 1:26, but could not score.
Tacoma took a 3-1 lead in the third quarter, when Gabarra was able to step around Joe Koziol and Iain Fraser at the top of the penalty area, with 5:28 gone in the period, and place the ball out of Blast goalkeeper Cris Vaccaro's reach.
The Blast closed in again, 65 seconds later, when Tacoma goalkeeper Mike Dowler tracked the ball into a corner and tried to chip it out. The ball landed at the feet of Fraser, who simply nailed it straight back into the net.
Defender Emil Dragicevic, with an assist from Fraser, finally tied things up with 5:42 left in the third. Dragicevic got the ball near midfield, dribbled a few steps and then smashed a cross-court winner through the box and past Dowler for the tie.
Vaccaro did all he could in the first quarter last night. He stopped Carl Valentine with a two-handed catch in front of the goal. He stopped Shawn Medved with an outstretched arm while flat on his back. He stopped Ed Radwaanski by forcing a shot to the far post.
But then came the second quarter. And although he was able to stop Dale Mitchell one-on-one to the left of the box, he had no chance 2:46 into the period when Fraser allowed Mitchell to dribble through the middle of the box.
Mitchell dished off to Greg Ion, who slid it back to the veteran forward and Mitchell punched it past Vaccaro for a 1-0 Tacoma lead.
A minute and a half later, Gary Heale dribbled down the right side of the box and beat Doug Neely for the Stars' 2-0 lead.
After a timeout, the Blast picked up the pace, but only Troy got off a meaningful shot until the quarter was nearly over.
Troy, on the run, got off a superb shot that Dowler was able to reach, just in time to make the save. He wasn't so lucky a few moments later.
The clock had dwindled to 1:46, before Fraser was able to cut the Tacoma lead to one. Standing at the top of the box, Fraser fielded a pass from Koziol, faked out Mitchell and ripped a liner past Dowler.
Dowler rushed immediately to Mitchell to voice his complaints about team defense.