The Blast is playing a ticklish game with fate, requiring nerves of steel and a great deal of faith. A year ago, it played this indoor soccer version of Russian roulette and lost, sitting out the Major Soccer League playoffs for the first time in franchise history.
Now, instead of controlling its fate, the Blast must root for the Dallas Sidekicks to beat the Wichita Wings and the Tacoma Stars to beat the Cleveland Crunch tonight, and for Wichita to beat Cleveland tomorrow. Finally, if it comes down to it, it must beat Tacoma here tomorrow, in the last game of the regular season.
What a scenario. So complicated. So familiar, especially to the Blast's Gang of Three: defender Rusty Troy, forward Domenic Mobilio and midfielder Mark Mettrick, the only players from last season's team who will be in the lineup at the Arena at 7:35 p.m. tomorrow against Tacoma.
Mike Stankovic and Billy Ronson, the Blast's other two holdovers, are out with injuries.
"It's the same situation, but it's not the same," said Mettrick. "The feeling is different. The last two games, we've played with a lot more fire and anger than we played with last year. Last year's team didn't have the competitiveness this one has. We haven't given up on anything."
A year ago, the Blast needed just one victory in its last nine games to make the postseason. It lost all nine. It lost 13 of its last 15 games and was reduced to rooting for the St. Louis Storm to beat Wichita to give the Blast a playoff berth. But Wichita won.
"Last year's team wasn't as hard-working, as honest or as defensive minded," said Troy, the team captain. "But we're still waiting for other teams to decide our fate. It's tough. We've come in here to work every day, and now it's all come down to what other teams do [tonight]. It means a lot of anxious moments. Half of you hopes there's a chance, and the other half warns you not to expect too much. I'm the kind of guy who would rather expect the worst and then hear good news. Our chances aren't good, but that doesn't mean I'm not hopeful."
As Blast coach Kenny Cooper has been telling his team all week, "a lot of crazy things can happen" in the MSL.
In the Tacoma at Cleveland game tonight, the Blast is hoping the Stars, 2-15 on the road, can keep their playoff hopes -- and the Blast's -- alive by beating the Crunch, which has won 13 of its past 14 home games.
In Wichita, where the Wings are healthy and expecting a sellout crowd, it is up to Dallas to do the good deed.
"Dallas is an honest team that will give it all it has and Tacoma still has a chance to make the playoffs, so you know they'll be playing hard in Cleveland," said Mobilio. "I'm just praying both Wichita and Cleveland don't both win. If at least one of them loses, we're still alive when we play our game against Tacoma."
Mobilio, like Mettrick and Troy, says the Blast is a different team from a year ago. But Mobilio says the Blast also is a different team from the one it was even two weeks ago.
"This year our team has worked harder than any other team in this league," he said. "We know we can out-work anyone. But it is only lately that we've realized winning takes more than just hard work. It takes total concentration and cutting down on mental errors. I think we've shown in our last few games that we understand that. I just hope it's not too late."
NOTES: The 1,000-member Blast Fan Club announced its year-end awards last night at La Fontaine Bleu in Glen Burnie. The winners were: Rod Castro, community service; Iain Fraser, most valuable defensive player; Mark Mettrick, unsung hero; Domenic Mobilio, most valuable offensive player and team MVP; Castro and Doug Neely, tie for newcomer of the year; and Kris Kelderman, rookie of the year. . . . The Blast will announce its official MVP, which is voted by the players and other soccer personnel, and the winner of the Mike Reynolds Unsung Hero Award, voted by the players only, after tomorrow night's game.
* If both Wichita and Cleveland lose tonight, the Blast would need to beat Tacoma at home tomorrow to make the Major Soccer League playoffs.
* If Cleveland loses tonight and Wichita wins, the Blast would qualify with a win over Tacoma tomorrow and a Wichita win over Cleveland tomorrow.
* If Wichita loses tonight and Cleveland wins, the Blast would be in if the team beats Tacoma and Cleveland defeats Wichita.
* If both Wichita and Cleveland win tonight, the Blast is eliminated.