After surviving an oh-so-close call against the Syracuse Silver Knights in the semifinals of the Major Indoor Soccer League playoffs, Baltimore Blast head coach Danny Kelly has been preaching to his top-ranked team to take nothing for granted this time of the year, especially not with the Blast two wins away from its second straight MISL championship.
"Hopefully we've learned something from that," Kelly said Thursday. "There are no easy games, especially against a team like Missouri, as talented as they are."
Tonight, the Blast opens its championship series against the Missouri Comets at the Independence Events Center in Independence, Mo.. The second game of the series and a 15-minute tiebreaking minigame, if necessary, will be played Sunday at the Baltimore Arena.
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Baltimore needed a 4-3 victory in a tiebreaking minigame to win its series with Syracuse last weekend and advance to its fourth straight championship appearance.
The Blast allowed a league-low 101 points during a 17-3 regular season while scoring 309 points.
On Thursday, they were individually honored for their efforts. Mike Looking-land was honored as the MISL's Most Valuable Player and Defender of the Year. William Vanzela won the Goalkeeper of the Year award. And Kelly was named the league's Coach of the Year.
"I think it says that we had a pretty good season," Kelly said. "But I think I speak for everyone when I say that we're all in this to win a championship."
Led by Leo Gibson, who is pacing the MISL in postseason points with 14, the third-seeded Comets upset the second-seeded Milwaukee Wave in the semifinals to reach the championship series. They scored a league-high 329 points while going 14-6 during the regular season.
The Blast were 2-0 against the Comets in the regular season, outscoring them 32-10. But Kelly said "that gets thrown out the window" now.
Kelly expects it to be "a great series," and he thinks the key for both teams will be making the most out of their offensive opportunities. Vanzela led all MISL goalkeepers with a 5.57 points-against average and a .833 save percentage. But Kelly says Danny Waltman, who has played every game in goal for the Comets, has also had a strong season.
"It's going to be a huge challenge to repeat as champions," Kelly said. "But we relish the opportunity to be in this position."
He will soon find out if his Blast players learned their lesson last time out.