Ultimately, the Blast collected a double victory Saturday night in the Major Indoor Soccer League's Eastern Division playoff opener.
First, the team sent home an announced crowd of 5,322 at 1st Mariner Arena in a jubilant frame of mind after defeating Rochester, 8-2, to take a leg up in the series that continues Monday night with Game 2 at Rochester.
Second, the Lancers will have to play that contest without leading scorer Mauricio Salles (second in the league with 81 points) after a late-game incident during which he threw a flagrant elbow at Blast defender Pat Healey, who was decked.
The officials slapped Salles with a red card for violent conduct and disqualified him from the game. Salles must also sit out the next game, which will deprive Rochester of one of its biggest offensive weapons.
"That definitely helps," Blast coach Danny Kelly said of Salles' absence. "Anytime, he is a threat to score. That guy can crush the ball. But he lost his composure, and I thought the refs did the right thing."
It could also have been a night of frustration for the Blast, who kept peppering Rochester goalie Patrick Hannigan, only to be turned away repeatedly. Hannigan was spectacular and finished the game with 22 saves, but in the end Baltimore's perseverance won out.
"That was the one thing, not getting frustrated because the ball wasn't going in," said Kelly. "We kept at it, and eventually something is going to go in."
The go-ahead goal, breaking a 2-2 halftime tie, came on a restart when Mike Lookingland (Loyola High) beat Hannigan over the top on a set play, Max Ferdinand assisting. In the fourth quarter, rookie J.T. Noone cashed in on a rebound off his body, and Ferdinand' second goal, shoot-out style in a power-play situation, clinched the team's fifth consecutive victory over Rochester.
"I thought we played really well. We created a lot of chances and finally finished a few," said Lookingland, who serves as the Blast's field captain during games. "We've still got a core group of guys who've won multiple championships and understand at this time of year you have to defend. The older guys did a good job of that, and the younger ones followed their lead."
The Lancers had just 15 shots (the Blast took 38) and never scored for the final 31/2 periods. The Blast amassed 12 blocks and Sagu needed to make only eight saves.
"Anytime you only give up one goal, it's a great defensive effort," said Kelly. "Rochester has been a tough opponent for us all season, and tonight was no different."
While notching a fifth straight win overall, the Blast took the first step toward a championship it has not claimed since 2009 when playing in the National Indoor Soccer League. Last season, Baltimore lost to the Milwaukee Wave in the finals.
Goals: 1. Rochester, Hoxie (unassisted), 7:55. Penalties: None.
Goals: 2. Blast, Ferdinand (Dos Santos), 12:32. Penalties: None.
Goals: 3. Blast, Lookingland (Ferdinand), 11:34. Penalties: None.
Goals: 4. Blast, Noone (Healey), 2:56; 5. Blast, Ferdinand. Penalties: R, Hannigan (hand ball), served by Miller 6:38; R, Salles (red card, disqualified for violent conduct), served by Ball, 12:44.
Attendance: 5,322.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun