Trademark defense, opportunistic offense, sparkling play in goal and, fittingly, another one-goal game.
It was vintage Blast soccer with the stakes the highest.
The Blast claimed a 4-3 win over the Monterrey Flash on Sunday night to capture their third straight Major Arena Soccer League championship in the Ron Newman Cup at Arena Monterrey.
Goalkeeper William Vanzela, in his second game back from injury, finished with eight saves and the Blast brilliantly protected the one-goal advantage in the closing minutes.
All season, the Blast showed a knack for closing out tight wins and the biggest came on Sunday — the 13th time they proved one goal better than their opponent. It’s Baltimore’s 10th professional indoor soccer championship, and the Blast avenged an overtime loss to the Flash in the 2014-15 championship.
“We’ve been doing it all season. We know wherever we go, we’re going to get everybody’s best shot and that’s the challenge we’ve embraced all season long,” coach Danny Kelly said. ““There was no fear coming to Monterrey. ... We were coming here knowing we could win. We just had to play hard, limit our mistakes and finish our chances when they came. I thought we played a pretty complete game.””
After going down with a groin injury in mid-January, Vanzela returned in the Blast’s 10-6 win over the Milwaukee Wave in the Eastern Conference final March 16. He was in top form Sunday with some timely saves and smart distribution. It’s the fourth straight season the Blast was playing for a championship in Mexico — the previous two titles came in wins against Soles de Sonora — and they played as if they were right at home.
“Again, it was a tough game in a tough environment and we expected that,” Vanzela said. “But I believe this year we definitely had the better team. Today, we were better the whole game. We allowed them to come back — credit to them, they’re a great team — but overall we were much better.”
Vini Dantas, Andrew Hoxie and Daniel Peruzzi scored first-half goals, and then Juan Pereira scored what proved to be the game-winner with 11:17 to play as Pat Healey registered his second assist of the game.
It gave the Blast a 4-1 lead, but goals from Efran Martinez and then Lourenco Andrade, coming with 3:39 to play, made for some anxious moments.
The Blast secured the championship with poised play at the end, Vanzela needing to make only one last save the rest of the way as the Flash brought on the extra attacker with just under two minutes to play.
“That’s heart,” Vanzela said about closing out the win. “It’s not soccer anymore. We had our hearts on the field and we play for each other and that makes the whole difference. We don’t have a No. 1 player, we have a team.”
Said Kelly: “Monterrey is a great team and we knew there would be a time when they would make a run. Don’t get too high, don’t get too low and stay on an even keel and do what we’ve been doing all season long — just sound fundamental defense and knowing who their dangerous players were.”
Making their seventh straight championship appearance, the Blast immediately quieted the crowd of 9,000-plus with a dominant first half that led to a 3-0 lead at the break.
The defending champions came out better prepared with more possession time and chances, then took a 1-0 lead on a goal from Dantas with 8:47 left to play in the first quarter.
After the Flash had a goal disallowed early in the second quarter for having too many players on the field, the Blast proved opportunistic with goals from Hoxie and Peruzzi for the 3-0 lead.
With 7:55 left in the half, Healey found Hoxie alone on the left side. He dribbled past drawn-out goalkeeper Diego Reynoso and finished into the open net for the 2-0 lead. Healey finished with three assists to go along with a strong defensive performance.
Taking advantage of a late Flash penalty, Jonatas Melo found Peruzzi making a run down the right side. Just before finding his way to the corner, he unleashed an unsuspecting shot from a tough angle that got past Reynoso on the near side.
While the Blast stayed responsible on defense throughout the first half, frustrating the Flash with tight marking and poised play, Vanzela also shined when called upon. He made six saves in the first 30 minutes, including two straight reaction saves midway through the second quarter with the Blast protecting a two-goal lead.
BLAST 1 2 0 1 — 4
MONTERREY 0 0 1 2 — 3
Scoring: 1 Blast, Dantas, (Donatelli), 6:13
Scoring: 2. Blast, Hoxie, (Healey), 7:06; 3. Blast, Peruzzi, (Melo), pp., 14:11
Scoring: 4. Monterrey, Gonzalez, (Farias), 2:48
Scoring: 5. Blast, Pereira, (Healey), 3:41; 6. Monterrey, Martinez, (Teran) 7:44; 7. Monterrey, Andrade (Vaca)
Goalkeeper saves: Blast, Vanzela, 8; Monterrey, Reynoso, 7.