CLEVELAND - An old nemesis helped beat the Blast yesterday as the Cleveland Force managed a 4-2 victory in a preview of a first-round Major Indoor Soccer League playoff series.
"This one had playoff intensity," Blast coach Bobby McAvan said. "You see a 4-2 score and think it was boring and ugly, but it was anything but that."
Indoor soccer legend Zoran Karic, who came out of retirement last week at the age of 41, set up both Cleveland goals in the third quarter as the Force (18-16) opened a two-game lead on the Blast (16-18) with two left.
The Blast needs to win both of its remaining games - at San Diego and at Dallas - and Cleveland must lose twice for the one-game playoff in the first round to be in Baltimore. The Force and Blast would finish at 18-18, but Baltimore would get the edge on the basis of winning the season series, 4-2.
"Playing at home is huge in the playoffs," said Karic, who helped Cleveland win three championships in the 1990s. "Believe me, we want to be at home because Baltimore is a very good team."
Force goalkeeper Jim Larkin had a shutout until Danny Kelly converted a penalty kick 9:22 into the fourth to bring the Blast to within two points.
"Both goalkeepers were brilliant," McAvan said. "Brett Phillips had the same number of saves  as their guy and did a great job for us."
Karic set up Justin Evans for the first goal, 8:21 into the third quarter, off a restart. Four minutes later, he passed to Giuliano Oliviero cutting in front of the goal for another score on the power play for a 4-0 lead.
"The guy has a Ph.D. in free kicks," said Force midfielder John Ball.
Karic has three assists in two games since coming back, extending his all-time record to 824.
"Zoran is still getting used to playing with some of the guys, but he's still such a dangerous weapon," Force coach Andy Schmetzer said. "He got us going, but we had some other chances, too. Braeden Cloutier hit the post three times, so we could have had more, but we'll take a big win."
The Blast applied pressure to equalize and Force defender Nevio Pizzolitto was called for a handball in the penalty area.
"It was a good call, no question," Schmetzer said.
Kelly made the ensuing penalty kick, but Larkin kept his composure and continued making big saves, including one on Tarik Walker with 59 seconds left.
"I thought it was going in," Walker said. "He just made a real good save, just got a toe on it.
"But there are plenty of positives to take from this game. We're pretty upbeat. We don't like losing, but we know we played a heck of a game, given the circumstances."
The Blast did not appear tired despite playing the previous night in Kansas City - and securing a playoff berth with a 16-11 win. The Blast did not arrive in Cleveland until two hours before the 3:05 p.m. kickoff.
"It was like we played a doubleheader," Blast forward Denison Cabral said.
Blast 0 0 0 2 - 2
Cleveland 0 0 4 0 - 4
First quarter: No scoring. Second quarter: No scoring. Third quarter: 1, Cle, Evans (Karic) 2 pt., 8:21; 2, Cle, Oliviero (Karic), 2pt., PP, 12:49. Penalty: Blast, bench (too many men) 12:21. Fourth quarter: 3, Blast, Kelly (penalty kick) 9:22. Penalty: Cle, Pizzolitto(handball) 9:21. Shots on goal: Blast 4-7-9-13-33; Cleveland 10-10-13-7-40. Power-play opportunities: Blast 1-1, Cleveland 1-1. Goalkeepers: Blast, Phillips, 20 shots, 18 saves, Tschantret 1 shot, 1 save; Cleveland, Larkin, 19 shots, 18 saves. A-6,856.