The Blast gave San Diego veteran Kevin Crow a little room, and now the Sockers have the same in their best-of-seven Major Soccer League semifinal series.
Crow's goal with 5:24 gone in overtime gave San Diego a 5-4 victory before 4,148 -- a Baltimore playoff attendance low -- at the Arena and provided the Sockers a 2-1 edge in games heading into tomorrow night's encounter here.
"I had a little room to work in at the end," said Crow, an eight-year Sockers veteran who had momentarily freed himself from Blast forward Jean Harbor. "When you're in overtime like that, everyone gets a little tired. When the ball came to me, I just tried to hit it as hard as I could in the middle of the net."
Blast goalkeeper Cris Vaccaro, who had stopped two other San Diego shots in overtime, grimaced when he heard Crow's plan.
"He sure hit the target all right," Vaccaro said. "He hit it well with a lot of pace."
The shot looked just fine to Sockers coach Ron Newman, who had watched an apparent victory turn into overtime on Rod Castro's 50-foot goal with 28 seconds remaining in regulation.
"Not even when Kevin's right foot came back to take the shot was I sure we'd win this one," Newman said. "He's not been shooting with a great deal of proficiency through the year . . . but we played well and this was a big win for us."
Newman may have been even more surprised by Crow's game-winner, given his All-Star defender was listed as questionable before the game with a sprained right ankle and a bruised left one. But neither seemed to be bothering him when Alex Golovnia set up for a free kick and passed him the ball in the extra period.
"We've been doing everything right, but overtime [1-6 this season]," said Blast forward Domenic Mobilio, who like Harbor, was held without a goal. "We had one chance and then we made a mistake and they capitalized. It was overtime, in our building, we should have buried them.
"Now we have to go for the next two. We have to go back to San Diego with a 3-2 lead."
The Sockers were never very comfortable in this game. A 3-1 lead in the third quarter vanished nearly as quickly as it came, when Emil Dragicevic and Iain Fraser countered scores by Paul Dougherty and Jacques Ladouceur.
"They have a lot more belief in themselves at this point than they did earlier in the season," said Crow. "Their comeback was typical of the Blast. And we've seen five- or six-goal leads disappear here, so we know anything can happen."
In the fourth quarter, it looked like a goal by Terry Woodberry would stand for a final 4-3 victory, but the Blast kept pressing.
Finally, with 28 seconds to play, and the Blast playing Billy Ronson as a sixth attacker on a power-play opportunity, Castro drilled his 50-footer past the far post and deep into the net to tie the game.
Vaccaro, who made 15 saves overall, made two early saves in the extra period, but the Blast got off just one shot against the inspired Sockers.
When play came back to the Blast end of the field, Fraser seemed to have cleanly knocked the ball away, but instead of continuing play, threw his hands in the air as if to show he had done nothing. The official obviously read it differently and blew the whistle, to set up a free kick for San Diego at the top of box.
"Obviously, we have to bounce back," said Blast coach Kenny Cooper. "But the important thing is we're in the games. In the season, we weren't. We played good tactically and we've gotten closer and closer to them."
NOTES: The teams were tied after the first half on goals by Joe Koziol and Dougherty. . . . Cooper received a yellow card for protesting the lack of a handball call by referee Gino Dippilito on Woodberry's goal, which gave the Sockers a 4-3 lead.