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Blast opens season with 7-4 home win over Chicago Mustangs

The Blast opened its season with a 7-4 win at home over the Chicago Mustangs.

Last week, Blast captain Pat Healey talked about how the start of the team's 2015-16 Major Arena Soccer League season might include some trial and error.

He mentioned how the new players would need time to get comfortable and how some of last year's departed veterans would be missed. The plan was to grind out wins early — whatever it took — and improve on the go.

The Blast did just that in its home opener Saturday night against the Chicago Mustangs.

Baltimore had some ragged moments but produced many more good ones in coming away with a 7-4 win before an enthusiastic announced 9,442 at Royal Farms Arena.

“It was a great win — anytime opening night [that] you get a win,” Blast coach Danny Kelly said. “I thought we started out well, got out to the 3-0 lead and then we just caused our own problems.”

Forward Vini Dantas led the offense with two goals and two assists, and newcomers Andrew Hoxie and Brad Vanino also scored in their debuts. Goalkeeper William Vanzela finished with seven saves, including three consecutive stops in the second quarter, when the lead was not so secure.

The MASL no longer is using the multipoint scoring system; every goal this season is worth one point.

The Blast (1-0) hosts the Syracuse Silver Knights on Saturday at 7:35 p.m.

The hosts opened their season energized and efficient in the first quarter, possessing the ball throughout, owning a 10-1 advantage in shots and taking a 3-0 lead.

Adrian Dos Santos gave the Blast its first goal of the season 5:36 into the game. Two goals in the quarter's final minute — Dantas scored off a set piece, and Hoxie finished a nifty half-volley — provided a 3-0 lead and what should have been momentum going forward.

But the Blast played sloppily for much of the second quarter, allowing the Mustangs back in the game. Antonio Aguilar was left unmarked on the right side and scored an easy goal just 16 seconds into the period before Vanzela had to make three sharp saves to keep the Mustangs from further cutting into the lead.

Chicago pulled within 3-2 when Efrain Wilo Martinez scored on a penalty kick after Vanzela was penalized for tripping with 7:20 left in the half.

Dantas made it 4-2 with 3:40 to play, scoring his second goal of the half after a smart extra pass from Juan Pereira led to an open net in front.

“When you don't play quite as well as you expect to and still get the win, it's always a positive,” Dantas said. “ But I think today is a good example that we have a lot of work to do, a lot of things to work on to accomplish what we're trying to, which is winning a championship.”

The Blast's defense tightened in the second half, giving the Mustangs little time or space. Lucas Roque, Vanino and Levi Houapeu pushed the lead to 7-2 before the Mustangs scored twice in the final two minutes of play.

“We let them back in the game, and it was on us,” Kelly said. “ At halftime, we talked about controlling the things you can control, and do the little things better. I thought we were better fundamentally on defense in the second half, limited their opportunities, finished our chances, and overall, a much better job.”

At halftime, the Blast inducted former captain and defender Lance Johnson into the franchise's Hall of Fame. Johnson played 11 seasons with the team and is 13th in scoring, with 105 goals and 68 assists, and first in blocked shots. A four-time All-Star, he captained the Blast for his final eight seasons and was a key member of two championship teams. He became the 21st member of the team's Hall of Fame.

glenn.graham@baltun.com

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