The home game woes that plagued the Baltimore Blast earlier in the season are clearly long gone.
More proof came in dominating fashion Friday night against the visiting Syracuse Silver Knights, the team that spoiled the Blast's home opener back in November and rubbed it in some more with another win at 1st Mariner Arena in December.
This time around, the Blast bullied the Silver Knights all over the field with a perfectly executed first half that made the second half an afterthought, winning 21-6 before an announced crowd of 4,864.
"We lost two games to them at home earlier, and we came here to work hard as a team and prove to them that it's not going to be easy," said Aduato Neto, who led the Blast with three goals. "The first quarter everybody just worked really hard to get back on defense, and it paid off."
Max Ferdinand added two goals and two assists for the Blast, Machel Millwood had two goals and an assist, and Stephen DeRoux chipped in two goals.
At 9-3, the Blast hits the halfway point of the regular season playing its best soccer to date, riding a four-game winning streak and sitting comfortably in first place in the Major Indoor Soccer League's Eastern Division. Syracuse and Rochester, which visits the Blast Saturday night, are both 6-7 and 3 ½ games back.
After an 0-3 start at 1st Mariner Arena, the Blast is now 2-3 on home turf to go with its 7-0 record on the road.
"I think the confidence level is pretty high," coach Danny Kelly said. "We know we have the capabilities of being a good team, but we also know we're still a work in progress. … You can't dwell on the past but I would like a couple quarters back against some teams in which we gave away games. We're learning from those mistakes and we realize you can't switch off and when you do you can get punished. Tonight we did a pretty good job and in Milwaukee we did a good job of putting four good consistent quarters together."
The Blast offense got going early Friday night, as the team scored 15 points in the game's first 19 minutes.
Millwood opened the scoring five minutes in, taking a feed from Carlos Garcia and firing a shot high that quickly got past Syracuse goalie Eric Reed. Millwood had an easier chance to make it 4-0, as Ferdinand did most of the work with a smart run down the right side and a pinpoint pass across.
The Blast was quicker to the ball throughout, crisp with its passes, and hungry and precise when the time came to score.
DeRoux jumped on attack to score two first-half goals, and Millwood returned the favor in setting up Ferdinand for another goal. When Neto — dominant at target forward — scored on the power play with 11:13 left in the half, the Blast had stated its case with a 15-2 lead that would carry into intermission.
After surrendering an early goal in the third quarter that made it 15-4, the Blast left no doubt with three unanswered goals in the quarter for a 21-4 advantage. It was the team's second-highest scoring output of the season.
"I think the main reason was focus," Neto said. "The last time we were leading and gave up four goals in the fourth quarter and it cost us the game. I think this game we came in focused, willing to defend and work hard for each other, which was the difference."
Syracuse 2 0 2 2 -- 6
Blast 9 6 6 0 -- 21
Scoring: 1. Blast, Millwood, 2 pt., (Garcia), 4:13; 2. Blast, Millwood, 2 pt., (Ferdinand), 8:27; 3. Blast, DeRoux, 3 pt., (Neto), 9:53; 4. Syracuse, Budnyy, 2 pt., (Reed), 10:35; 5. Blast, Garcia, 2 pt., 13:43.
Scoring: 6. Blast, DeRoux , 2 pt., (Neto), :59; 7. Blast, Ferdinand, 2 pt., (Millwood), 2:14; 8. Blast, Neto, 2 pt., pp., 3:47
Penalties: Syracuse, Chantel, (tripping), 2:38.
Scoring: 9. Syracuse, Elenio, 2 pt., (Maher), :29; 10. Neto, 2 pt., (Garcia), 3:46; 11. Blast, Neto, 2 pt., (Ferdinand), 11:35; 12. Blast, Ferdinand, 2 pt., 13:50.
Penalties: Blast, DeRoux, (boarding), 3:03.
Scoring: 13. Syracuse, Gruenewald, 2 pt., 1:48;
Shots: Syracuse 2-5-3-5 -- 15; Blast 9-7-5-2 --23 .
Power-play opportunities: Syracuse 0-for-1; Blast 1-for-1.
Saves: Syracuse, Reed 3-2-2-1 -- 8; Blast, Sagu 0-4-2-2 -- 8.