The Blast made more than a statement Sunday night; it gave a speech to the rest of the Major Indoor Soccer League.
With perhaps its most impressive team effort of the season, the Blast dominated the second-place Milwaukee Wave, 20-9, at 1st Mariner Arena, clinched a berth in the playoffs and took a giant step toward finishing first and gaining a first-round bye and the home floor for the championship game.
It was the seventh consecutive victory for Baltimore (13-3), which has not lost since Jan. 16, and ensured the team would hold the tiebreaker for first place should it come to that at the end of the season. The Blast has won four of five head-to-head meetings with the Wave with only one remaining.
"This was an unbelievable effort," Blast coach Danny Kelly said. "We were very good in every facet of the game. We put them under pressure and finished our own chances. Holding a Milwaukee team to nine points is a tremendous accomplishment."
The margin might have been even greater had the Wave not elected to pull goaltender Marcel Feenstra early in the fourth quarter and play a sixth attacker. Often, that strategy involved rotating Josh Rife and Joe Hammes, depending on which team had possession. As a result, the Wave (12-5) accounted for the final five points after falling behind by 16 and fired 18 of their 32 shots in the fourth quarter.
"I was surprised they did that so early," said Blast captain Robbie Aristodemo, whose seven points came on a tap-in, a goal after his interception and a 3-pointer into an open net. "When they were behind by so much, maybe they just wanted to work on certain things for the next game."
Added Kelly: "I guess they felt that was the only chance to get back into the game. When they do that so early, you have to rely on your guys to do their job and help out on everybody else's job."
The Blast never trailed after a scoreless first quarter, rolling ahead 8-0 in the first half of the second quarter. Machel Millwood got the team going with a left-footed score 1:47 into the period, passing 300 points in his Blast career. Aristodemo's 3-pointer, which Rife couldn't flag down as he retreated, came with the Blast shorthanded and put the game out of reach early in the fourth quarter.
"This was the biggest game of the year for us," Aristodemo said. "If we won the head-to-head against them, we would be very close to hosting the final. We're not going to get too crazy over the win, but we got what we needed."
The Blast, which wore pink jerseys in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, is 7-1 at 1st Mariner Arena, with the only defeat coming at the hands of Milwaukee on Jan. 8.
Not normally a big scorer, Aristodemo has scored shorthanded goals in two consecutive games.
"These last two are the best I've felt all season," he said. 'I had some little nagging injuries that were prevented me from getting up and down the field. Now, I'm doing that a lot better."
M 0 2 2 5—9
B 0 8 7 5—20
Goals: None. Penalties: None.
Goals: 1. Blast, Millwood (Watson) (3-pt.goal), 1:47; 2. Blast, Gonzaga (unassisted) (3-pt-goal), 6:36; 3. Blast, Aristodemo (Millwood), 7:09; 4. Milwaukee, Hammes (Terminesi), 8:35. Penalties: None.
Goals: 5. Milwaukee, Moreira (Rife) (power play goal), 7:00; 6. Aristodemo (unassisted), 7:09; 7. Morris (Healey) (3 pt., power play goal), 8:48; 8. Blast, Ferdinand (Ukah), 9:33. Penalties: B—Ukah (tripping), 6:39; M—Selaidopoulos (holding), 8:06.
Goals: 9. Blast, Aristodemo (unassisted) (3 pt, shorthanded goal), 4:23; 10. Neto (unassisted), 6:25" 11. Milwaukee, MacKenzie (Mack), 10:17; 12. Milwaukee, Dusosky (Hammes) (3 pt. goal), 13.44. . Penalties: B—(too many men, served by Celenza), 3:08; M—Moreira (dissent, misconduct), 5:20.
Shots: Milwaukee 32, Blast 31.
Saves: M—Feenstra, 12, Rife 1; B—Sagu 12.