No longer stuck in neutral, Blast set to rev up home-field edge

pro soccer nisl championship game

April 11, 2009|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,Special to The Baltimore Sun

A year ago as the professional indoor soccer championship game approached, Blast officials and fans were fuming. This year they were beaming.

Simply put, a change of venue made a world of difference to everyone.

Saturday night, when the Blast hosts the Rockford (Ill.) Rampage at 1st Mariner Arena for the National Indoor Soccer League title, the biggest event of the indoor season is finally where they believe it belongs - at the home of the top seed and regular-season champion.

That was not the case in 2008 when the Major Indoor Soccer League held its finale in Milwaukee (which had won a bidding process) between the eventual champion Blast and the Monterrey La RaZa, drawing the ire of Blast owner Ed Hale and helping lead to the eventual breakup of the league.

Hale has always been opposed to the championship being conducted at a neutral site, and now, under the NISL arrangement, the regular-season king gets the game.

"It was fundamentally flawed," Hale said of the previous situation, which drew only several hundred Blast fans to the Midwest because of the travel and expense involved. "The highest-seeded team won the right to have the championship at home."

As a result, the Chicago Storm, Detroit Ignition, New Jersey Ironmen and Milwaukee Wave departed what was a nine-team league and formed the crux of the Xtreme Soccer League, a rival of the NISL.

"Taking the championship somewhere else didn't seem logical," said Blast vice president-general manager Kevin Healey. "We believe our sport should be held where the home fans can enjoy it."

Roughly 4,000 watched the Blast win the 2008 title. Tonight, the arena should be filled or nearly filled.

"You're a lot more comfortable when you're at home," said Machel Millwood, the Blast's All-NISL forward. "It's just a great lift for the players because you know your fans are going to be out there in support. We're always grateful for that. You have more energy when they're behind you."

The Blast is asking those who attend to wear red, the team's primary color.

Notes:: Rampage coach Jeff Kraft is a Baltimore native who grew up in Parkville and attended Calvert Hall. He formerly served as an assistant with the Storm. ... The Blast again led the league in attendance, averaging 7,534 per date.

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