Blast kicks off with a bang

Neto sparks opening win before 11,519, first sellout since 1990

Blast 9 Cougars 4

Pro soccer


The first sellout crowd in more than 15 years came to 1st Mariner Arena last night to see the Blast begin anew on a winning note, and the home team did not disappoint the faithful.

Forward Adauto Neto made his debut in a Blast jersey a memorable one by producing three goals and two assists to spark a 9-4 rout over the expansion California Cougars before 11,519.

It was the largest gathering to witness a Major Indoor Soccer League game in Baltimore since March 24, 1990. The Blast, which failed to make the playoffs for the first time in six years last season, obviously came prepared for a great start.

Neto, who played for the now-defunct Cleveland Force before the Blast selected him in the league's dispersal draft in September, was the star of the show, but he had plenty of help. Six Blast players scored, including forward Giuliano Celenza, who scored the season's first goal and finished with two.

The Blast ran its transition game crisply, passed smartly and smothered California at the defensive end. It scored the game's first four goals, then rolled to a 9-2 lead after three quarters.

The Cougars, who trailed 5-1 at halftime, never found an offensive flow. They barely bothered Blast goalie Sagu. The Blast offense peppered California goalies Dominik Jakubek and Brian Rowland - formerly of the Blast - by outshooting the Cougars 39-23.

"With the kind of players we have, it makes it a lot easier for me. They read the game well. They know how to play," said Neto, who converted all three of his shots. "We got a lot of breakaways, a lot of good runs off the ball. It felt very good, especially with the fans behind us."

Said Celenza: "[Neto] is going to be great. It seems like the ball sticks to his feet. I'm just glad he's in a Baltimore uniform. We had guys giving up the ball, and it all started with our defense. If you get five guys behind the ball, it's going to be tough for [your opponent] to score."

From the outset, the Blast took over the middle of the field and kept the California defense in retreat, although Jakubek made several outstanding early saves.

After surrendering the game's first score by Celenza with 11:29 left in the opening quarter, Jakubek frustrated the Blast for the rest of the quarter, as it outshot California 17-5 and failed on a power-play opportunity.

But in the second quarter, Neto ignited the crowd and his team by scoring two goals in a span of 3:19, making it 3-0 with 11:01 left in the first half. The Blast extended its lead on a goal by midfielder Lee Tschantret, gave up the Cougars' first score with 4:27 left, then took a 5-1 halftime lead when Neto fed forward Carlos Garcia for a goal with 2:34 left in the half.

"I was just waiting for that second goal. Then we got into a groove," Blast coach Tim Wittman said. "I think the crowd helped. I didn't have to say too much or do too much. The players wanted to play well."

California 0 1 1 2 - 4

Blast 1 4 4 0 - 9

First quarter 1. Blast, Celenza 3:31. Penalties: Leone, California (tripping), 4:31. Jakubek, California (intentional hand ball), 14:25. Second quarter 2. Blast, Neto (ppg) 0:40; 3. Blast, Neto (Cabral) 3:59; 4. Blast, Tschantret (Fell) 4:38; 5. California, Ricardinho (Lilavois) 10:33; 6. Blast, Garcia (Neto) 12:26. Penalties: None. Third quarter 7. Blast, Celenza (Regis) 5:46; 8. Blast, Fell (Neto) 6:13; 9. Blast, Neto (Kelly) 8:46; 10. California, Sutton 9:11; 11. Blast, Cabral (Tschantret) 14:25. Penalties: None. Fourth quarter 12. California Ricardinho (Figueroa) 4:53; 13. California Lilavois, 13:35. Penalties: Andonovski, California (tripping), 6:58. Celenza, Blast (boarding), 8:44. Shots: California 23, Blast 39. Power plays: California 0-for-1, Blast 1-for-3. Goalies: California, Jakubek (16, 12, 4); Rowland (11, 6, 5); Andonovski (0, 0, 0). Blast, Sagu (14, 10, 4). A: 11,519.

Steamers@Blast Next Saturday, 7:35 p.m. Radio: 680 AM

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