Blast forward Giuliano Celenza, rear, defends against the… (Barbara Haddock Taylor…)
It's a rivalry that includes constant jawing, heated moments and long-standing hatred with a sample of admitted mutual respect.
How about Baltimore Blast vs. Milwaukee Wave.
The Major Indoor Soccer League doesn't have the billion dollar television contracts or pay its players seven-figure salaries. But it does have a fierce rivalry that will be showcased here Friday night when the Blast hosts the Wave in the MISL Championship Game, set for 7:35 p.m. at 1st Mariner Arena.
The two most storied franchises remaining in the five-team league have been going at each other since 1992. The Blast has captured five championships to the Wave's four — all nine combined titles coming in the past 13 seasons.
"It really is a great rivalry. Off the field, there's a lot of respect for both organizations, both have been around and successful for a long time," said Blast general manager Kevin Healey. "On the field, we respect the fact that they've won championships and we have won championships, but there's intensity like the Steelers-Ravens intensity. And I think it's justified that the two best teams this year are playing for the championship."
Blast captain Robbie Aristodemo's assessment of the rivalry is more direct.
"For me, I hate everything they stand for," he said. "Off the field, I know some guys and am friends with them, but once the whistle goes, it's pretty much pure hatred. "
Both teams finished the regular season with 15-5 records, but the series — which included one brawl-filled game that resulted in multiple suspensions — went to the Blast, 4-2, to earn first place. While the Blast received an automatic bid to the title game, Milwaukee won a three-game semifinal round win over third-place Missouri to advance.
Blast coach Danny Kelly said his team will have to do the same things that helped earn previous championships and the top spot this year: pay attention to detail, sacrifice for each other and stay focused, disciplined and hungry.
He added: "It's going to be a great game. We won the regular season series, but every game was a battle, every game was close. This is what we play for, why we work so hard throughout the season, to get to this point. It's right in front of us now and we're going to do everything we can to grab it."
While the Blast is quicker with more technical skill, the Wave is bigger and relies on aggressive, physical play. Which team better possesses the ball and finishes chances should come out on top.
The home team came away with a number of individual league awards earlier in the week with Kelly voted the MISL Coach of the Year, Sagu named the league's top goalkeeper and Pat Morris its top defender.
The task at hand will be containing a dangerous Wave offense led by first-team All-MISL forward Marco Terminisi, who finished second in scoring during the regular season with 72 points. The Blast counters with a balanced offense led by Pat Healey (team-high 48 points), Max Ferdinand (43), Morris (42) and Machel Millwood (42).
In accepting his top defender award earlier in the week, Morris, who came to Baltimore this season after a fine career with the now-defunct Philadelphia KiXX, was appreciative of the recognition, but clearly had the bigger prize in mind.
"I came here for one reason, and it's to win a championship," said Morris, in his 12th season. "Baltimore has won so many championships since I've been around. So that was my first priority when I came down here — win a championship. Everything that comes on top of that is gravy."