SAN DIEGO -- The Blast dared the San Diego Sockers to give it their best shot in last night's opening game of the Major Soccer League playoffs.
For three quarters the defensive pressure paid off, but San Diego rallied in the fourth to win, 5-4.
"We knew they would come at us and play great, and they did," said Blast coach Kenny Cooper. "But we withstood that pressure really well, and it was a great performance by the guys."
The Blast went into the fourth quarter with a 3-1 lead and rallied to tie 4-4 late in the quarter, despite being outshot 39-14.
"We'll learn from this and come back Friday [tomorrow]," Cooper said.
Cooper praised his team, which squeaked into the playoffs with a win in the final game of the regular season, for sticking to the defensive scheme, rather than trying to run with the Sockers.
Thompson Usiyan, who scored two fourth-quarter goals for the Sockers, attributed Baltimore's letdown at the end to fatigue.
"It wasn't a question of us getting loose; it was a question of them getting tired," said Usiyan. "It is very hard to play defensive like that. You are under constant bombardment, and sooner or later you are going to crack."
After building a 2-0 lead in the first half, the Blast took a 3-0 lead at 6:56 of the third quarter when Domenic Mobilio took the rebound of a long pass from Kris Kelderman off of the end zone boards, wheeled to his left around defender David Banks and scored from a tough angle.
San Diego got on the board at 11:43 of the third period because of Paul Wright's charge from midfield with two Blast defenders on him. Wright had just enough room to pass to Kevin Crow in front of the goal.
Crow was credited with the goal, though the ball may actually have been redirected into the net by Baltimore's Mark Mettrick.
Mettrick's foot was in the wrong place at the wrong time again, as San Diego rallied to tie the match in the fourth quarter.
After Usiyan slipped the ball past Baltimore's Cris Vaccaro from a 90-degree angle to make it 3-2 at 3:12, Paul Dougherty tied it with a hard shot from the top of the penalty box that hit Mettrick's foot and sailed past Vaccaro.
The change in fortune put the tiring Blast in the uncomfortable position of playing the Sockers' wide-open style.
Wright scored at 12:04 to give San Diego the lead for the first time in the game. After Wright's goal, Vaccaro was pulled in favor of a sixth attacker, and the move paid off with a goal by Jean Harbor that tied the contest 4-4 at 13:12.
Usiyan scored the game-winner with 1:40 to play when he kicked high over his head at a chip pass from Dougherty.
The Blast was not about to let the Sockers get a running start. Cooper's side concentrated on tough defense, looking for a chance to steal the ball and pick up a breakaway goal.
It worked to a point and Baltimore took a 1-0 lead at 9:18 of the first quarter on a goal by Kevin Sloan, who also was credited with the Blast's first shot on goal. Following a timeout, Harbor took a long restart pass at the Sockers' red line and fed it to Sloan, who was streaking in ahead of San Diego's Usiyan.
Baltimore kept the Sockers at bay through the second period with the same hunkering defense and some sharp goaltending by Vaccaro, who denied the Sockers on two quick shots with 6:28 to play.
Sloan scored his second goal of the night at 10:02 on a rare mistake by the Sockers. San Diego's Banks attempted to clear a rebound off of a shot by Rod Castro in front of the Sockers goal with a light backward touch pass to Dougherty.
Dougherty, however, had veered away and Sloan was able to pounce on the ball and gun it past Nogueira.
The goal came on Baltimore's third shot of the game. San Diego outshot Baltimore 16-5 in the half.
The best-of-seven series resumes in San Diego tomorrow night and moves to Baltimore starting next Tuesday.