The Blast had the advantage for 50 minutes in Game 5 last night at the Arena. But neither a sixth-attacker offense nor the noise of the 4,594 fans could overcome the Sockers in the closing 10 minutes, as San Diego advanced to its fifth straight Major Soccer League championship series with a 4-3 victory.
"This feels delightful," San Diego coach Ron Newman said after the Sockers sewed up the best-of-seven series, 4-1. "But let me tell you about the Blast. They've got great potential. It's a great, young team in the making. The only problem they had, is the season wasn't quite long enough. Next season, with their young guys and with Jean Harbor getting more experience, they're going to be great."
The game-winner came from ex-Blast Paul Dougherty, who scored his second goal with 4:10 left. But, again, the Sockers could credit their victory to goalkeeper Victor Nogueira. He made 11 saves, but nearly all of them were spectacular.
"Newman should give Victor the entire salary cap," said Blast coach Kenny Cooper. "I've never, in my entire life, seen anyone play like he has."
The Blast had chances to extend its 3-2 lead, but direct hits -- balls that appeared to have nowhere to go but in the net -- were picked out of the sky by Nogueira.
"I had that one shot that I was sure was in," said Blast defender Iain Fraser. "I already had my hands up to celebrate, when I heard that pop, and there it was in his hands. The guy should be the league MVP -- again."
For the Blast, the trouble started when Harbor, at the end of his first indoor season, made a rookie mistake and was called for a delay-of-game penalty with 3:06 gone in the fourth quarter.
The call gave San Diego a power-play opportunity, which defender Terry Woodberry capitalized on by punching the ball into the back of the Blast net to tie the game, 3-3.
"I didn't even know I kicked the ball away," Harbor said. "I just don't understand. They called a foul, but I just didn't know. It is so hard to lose this way. It's humiliating to lose three straight at home."
Six minutes after Woodberry's goal, the Sockers struck again. This time on a flurry of shots, Dougherty broke through for the decisive goal.
"It's like he has these little radars coming out of him," said Newman. "Paul just has a great feel for the ball."
While this was the first semifinal series meeting between San Diego and the Blast, it marked the fifth time in five tries that the Blast has lost a playoff series to the Sockers.
In the championship series, San Diego will play the winner of the Dallas-Cleveland series. The Sidekicks lead the series 2-1 after last night's 7-6 overtime loss to the Crunch.
For three quarters last night, the Blast looked as if it would pull off one more miracle performance, and at the half, with the Blast ahead, 3-2, Cooper was not about to be one-upped.
When Newman hoofed it to midfield to schmooze the refs at the beginning of the intermission, Cooper was on his heels.
Newman and Cooper exchanged words. Sockers forward Thompson Usiyan stepped between them, but the argument continued as the coaches moved off the field, and finally ended as David Eise wrapped his arms around Cooper and Newman ducked into the hallway to the dressing room.
For the Blast, this was the final chance at keeping the series alive, and Cooper, obviously, was not going to give up an inch.
And that's exactly how his team played for three quarters. When San Diego took the lead on a power-play goal by Woodberry, 3:50 into the first quarter, the Blast responded.
Keeping its composure, the Blast tied it up a minute later, when Rod Castro's hard shot off the boards deflected off San Diego's Alex Golovnia and into the net.
Three minutes later, Blast rookie Kris Kelderman took only his second shot of the series and gave the Blast a 2-1 lead. After surviving another San Diego power play, the Blast relinquished Dougherty's first goal from 40 feet for a 2-2 tie with 5:42 gone in the second quarter.
But the Blast again fought back and regained the lead when Castro, set up by Harbor, notched his second goal of the night on the power play. It went to the locker room with the 3-2 lead, and held it through the third quarter.