Winning the U.S. Interregional Soccer League championship last season was a dream come true for the Bays, but save for the few faithful who made the trek to Tulsa, Okla., the Bays were left to celebrate their achievement alone.
That won't happen this season.
A new playoff format has given the undefeated Bays the opportunity to defend their title in front of their home crowd at Du Burns Arena Sunday night against the Tulsa Roughnecks.
The last time the USISL playoffs came to Canton was three years ago, and the undefeated Bays were railroaded in the first round by the Chattanooga Express.
"We haven't forgotten that loss to Chattanooga and we're all looking forward to celebrating our championship this weekend in front of family, friends and supporters," said Bays coach Kevin Healey, whose team will visit the Roughnecks (10-4) today for the first game in the best-of-three title series.
"We have an outstanding team, no doubt about it, but we still have to go out and do it on the field."
After tonight's game, the series resumes at 7: 30 Sunday night in Canton. If the teams split the first two games, they will play a "mini game" (two 15-minute periods) after Game 2 to decide the champion.
With three of the league's top four scorers in his lineup, Healey is confident his team will win the title without having to play the mini game. Billy Ronson, the league's leading scorer with 20 goals and 30 assists, sees no reason why the Bays can't finish the season undefeated, so long as they don't underestimate their opponent.
"We could be going for our third title, but we choked that year. We had it all there for the taking and we choked," said Ronson, referring to the Bays' first-round loss to Chattanooga.
"Tulsa is a good team and if we go in too cocky, who knows what can happen. We don't want to let one weekend spoil the whole season."
Dave Tenney and Matt St. Jean have split time in the net this season and their 117 combined saves have helped the Bays outscore their opponents, 136-40. While both are undefeated, Tenney has been the more efficient of the two, and leads the league with an 85.51 save percentage.
In addition to Ronson, the Bays have a number of other players who can find the net, including Denison Cabral (21 goals, 10 assists), Tarik Walker (19, seven) and Dan Santoro (10, nine).
"This is the best team we've ever had, by far," said Ronson, who is now working full-time for Bays owner Bill Wallace at Action Business Systems. "If we blow this, I might not show up for work Monday morning."