Clearly revitalized by the calendar change and its return home, the Blast wasted little time in taking advantage of the fresh start last night against the Cleveland Force.
Getting the offense out of the way early and then showing poise and smarts in protecting the lead later, the Blast came away with a 15-6 win over the Force before 6,403 at 1st Mariner Arena.
Goals came from seven players, with Danny Kelly and Tarik Walker leading the Blast with one goal and two assists each. Giuliano Celenza and Billy Nelson added a goal and an assist apiece, with Craig Scheer scoring his first goal of the season.
The Blast, faced with the burden of an early-morning flight for this afternoon's game in Milwaukee, improved to 6-12, 2 1/2 games behind the Harrisburg Heat, a 20-14 loser to the Kansas City Comets last night, for third place in the Major Indoor Soccer League's Eastern Conference.
"I'm absolutely ecstatic," said Bobby McAvan, who improved to 2-3 as coach and 2-0 at home. "Out with the old and in with the new. We want to get rid of all the bad stuff that's been going on, and this was a fresh start for us."
The Blast didn't resemble the team that has been mired in last place in the Eastern Conference and lost its last three road games to close 2002.
Instead, the home team attacked the ball at the offensive end and made sure on the chances that the hard work created. Most importantly, the positive start McAvan said the team desperately needed came about.
Kelly, healthy and energized in his second game back after a hamstring injury, finished off a chance provided by Walker 34 seconds into the game for a 2-0 lead.
"Tarik played the ball out of the corner, and it sort of rolled right to me. I took a good crack at it and it found the corner," Kelly said. "In the past few games, we haven't been playing poorly, but we've been getting down early and then you're scrambling. We have some players out and a young lineup, so we need the fast start to gain confidence."
The Blast was far from finished in a statement first quarter during which it took an 8-0 lead on goals from Kelly, Celenza, Scheer and Nelson. All of the goals were nicely set up, none better than Jason Dieter's midfield run along the right boards before finding Scheer open on the left.
The shots on goal in the first quarter showed the needed energy was there to take charge in the home building: Blast 11, Force 1.
"We wanted to get pressure on the ball," McAvan said. "The Force played [Friday night], so we wanted to get right on top of them, be tough and go with your runners. And when we were getting possession, we were doing smart things with the ball."
The Force found its only offense of the first half 3:28 into the second quarter on a goal from D.J. Newsom to cut the lead to 8-2, but the Blast answered late on the power play, with Walker finishing off a chance from Celenza for a 10-2 lead at the break.
Stubborn defense that limited Force star Hector Marinaro to one assist and ball possession helped the Blast protect its lead in the second half, with keeper Scott Hileman posting 12 saves.
NOTES: Last night marked the official change from Baltimore Arena to 1st Mariner Arena. Blast owner and 1st Mariner Bank CEO Ed Hale acquired the naming rights from the city through his company, Arena Ventures, LLC. A number of 1st Mariner Arena signs were on display along the building's exterior.
Cleveland 0 2 2 2 -- 6
Blast 8 2 2 3 -- 15
First quarter: 1. Blast, Kelly, 2 pt., (Walker), :34; 2. Blast, Celenza, 2 pt., (Walker), 5:04; 3. Blast, Scheer, 2 pt., (Dieter), 12:23; 4. Blast, Nelson, 2 pt., (Kelly), 12:41. Penalties: none.
Second quarter: 5. Cleveland, Newsom, 2 pt., 3:28; 6. Blast, Walker, 2 pt., (Celenza), 11:17. Penalties: Cleveland, Mattachione, (boarding), 10:29.
Third quarter: 7. Cleveland, Oliviero, 2 pt., (Marinaro), 6:42; 8. Blast, Wells, 2 pt., (Kelly), 11:57. Penalties: Cleveland, Stoddard, (five-minute misconduct), 8:33.
Fourth quarter: 9. Cleveland, Pizzolitto, 2 pt., (Ball), 12:49; 10. Blast, Wakefield, 3 pt., (Nelson), 13:26.
Penalties: Blast, Kelly, (five-minute misconduct), 3:42. Shots on goal: Cleveland 1-6-8-7 -- 22; Blast 11-9-4-3 -- 27. Power-play opportunities: Cleveland 0-for-0; Blast 1-for-1. Shootout opportunities: Cleveland 0-for-0; Blast 0-for-0. Goalkeepers: Cleveland, Larkin, 13 shots, 7 saves, Ball 2 shots, 1 save; Blast, Hileman, 15 shots, 12 saves. A: 6,403.