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SportsSoccer

Defenders will be key to Blast's title defense

Baltimore BlastMajor Indoor Soccer LeagueSyracuse Silver KnightsRochester LancersMilwaukee Wave

The Blast has had many offensive stars come and go over the course of winning six professional indoor soccer championships since 2003, but one thing that never leaves is the team's strong commitment to defense.

This season, the defending Major Indoor Soccer League champions have been at their frugal best. 

Heading into the last home weekend of the regular season, the Blast is 13-3 and in second place in the MISL, assured a playoff spot with four games remaining. The team's tidy play on defense (the Blast has yielded 79 points in 16 games, a smidge under 5 per game) has been the starting point in another successful season.

In comparison, the first-place Wave (14-2) have permitted 158 points in the same number of games, exactly twice as many as the Blast.

So what gives? Or in the Blast's case when talking defense, what doesn't give?

"We defend collectively, we hold each other accountable and we go from there," coach Danny Kelly said. "Everybody knows you have to defend to win games and be successful, and I think we just do it really well."

The Blast host the Pennsylvania Roar on Friday (7:05 p.m. at Baltimore Arena) and then the Syracuse Silver Knights on Saturday (6:05 p.m.) before traveling to Rochester on Sunday to take on the Lancers at 3 p.m. The team will close the regular season at Pennsylvania on March 2.

Defense will be key to the Blast's success in each of those games.

"It's not just the defenders, it's the midfielders and the forwards as well," defender Pat Healey said. "We're all committed to working hard, scrapping, blocking shots — whatever we have to do. And then when we need [goalkeeper William Vanzela] to make a big save, he is there for us."

Vanzela enjoyed a fine rookie season in helping the Blast capture the MISL championship last year, and his game has steadily improved in his second season. With a 10-3 record, he leads the MISL with a 5.27 points-against average and an .839 save percentage.

"He's an outstanding goalkeeper," Kelly said. "His positioning is excellent the way he cuts down the angles. You think a lot of shots just hit him, but there's a method to his madness in terms of his positioning. He knows exactly where he's at and exactly where he is relative to the goal."

In front of him is an experienced group that effectively plays within the system. The plan is simple: If you don't have the ball, you can't score.

"We just got a job to do when the ball turns over," said Kelly, in his eighth season as coach. "And it's not just the defenders or the midfielders, it's the entire unit. The guys commit to defense because what we're trying to do is create offense from our defense.

"Maybe the No. 1 thing is the buy in, the want to. You have to want to defend, and there has to be a willingness to sacrifice for your team."

Team captain Mike Lookingland, who has a league-high 30 blocks and also leads the Blast in points with 44, sets the tone with hard work, smart decisions and that "want," which Kelly knows is vital.

"I think we all know, first and foremost, that we just want to win the game, and you can't win if you don't keep the other team off the board'" said Lookingland, who was the MISL Defender of the Year last season. "So we have [veteran forwards] like [Audeto] Neto and Lucio Gonzaga that come back and double team and fight and defend.

"Those guys can easily hang out up there, save their legs for offense and be the leading scorers in the league. But at the end of the day, we want to win and that starts with defending."

glenn.graham@baltsun.com

twitter.com/GlennGrahamSun

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