In 2003, the Baltimore Blast was on the verge of another frustrating "close, but no cigar" season when it trailed the Milwaukee Wave 12-4 early in the third quarter in the third and deciding game of the championship round.
When defender Billy Nelson scored a 3-point goal, cutting the deficit to 12-7 with a good chunk of the second half remaining, the Blast had the opening it needed.
Soon after, the team was celebrating an improbable 13-12 win in Milwaukee.
Blast coach Danny Kelly, then a standout midfielder for the team, noted Nelson's goal as the starting point to something special.
The championship was the first of five professional indoor soccer titles for the Blast in the past seven years. The Blast players - confident, experienced and plenty proven - are primed for another successful ending this season.
The Major Indoor Soccer League playoffs begin tonight when the Blast travels to Monterrey to face La RaZa in the first game of the semifinals at 10:35. The teams will return to Baltimore for the second game at 7:35 p.m. Monday.
If the teams split the two games, a golden-goal overtime period immediately after the second game will decide which team moves on to play top seed Milwaukee for the championship.
The Blast will lean on that extensive championship experience in hopes of pushing through another successful postseason.
"When we first went to the playoffs, it was new to everybody and there weren't too many players comfortable with the situation. It was more like, 'Wow, we're here,' " Blast veteran midfielder Denison Cabral said. "Now, it's not being overconfident or cocky, but it's more like we know what we have to do and what it takes to win."
The Blast took four of six games against La RaZa in its 11-9 regular season, winning all three home games and taking one game in Mexico. The last meeting, however, was a 25-10 setback Feb. 14 in which there were seven penalties and the ejection of Blast goaltender Sagu.
"It's going to be a very hostile environment down there, and we have to be prepared for that going in," Blast captain Robbie Aristodemo said. "It's part of my job, the coaches and the other veteran players to try to keep everybody level-headed. There's going to be a lot of ups and downs during the game, and we're hoping to keep it close late and get a win at the end."
While the Blast has five players with 31 or more points - Lucio Gonzaga, Machel Millwood, Max Ferdinand, Cabral and Giuliano Celenza - Monterrey relies on the talented one-two punch of Genoni Martinez and Carlos "Chile" Farias. The two rank second and third in the league in scoring, with 62 and 53 points, respectively.
"There's a lot of things that go into winning championships," Kelly said. "And at the end of the day, it's about the guys working for each other and being willing to sacrifice parts of their game for the good of the team. I like the direction that we're headed. From the time we started to where we're at now, I think we've developed a good chemistry."
Blast vs. Monterrey La RaZa TONIGHT
At Monterrey, 10:35
At 1st Mariner Arena, 7:35
Note: If the teams split the two games, a "Golden Goal" mini game will be played directly after the second game with the first goal scored determining the series winner.