The Blast roster is a melting pot — there are slightly more first- and second-year players than veterans, and more are from Brazil than the Baltimore area.
All the mixing and matching — eight players on the 18-man roster come from another country, and 10 have played for the team two years or less — may have been cause for concern at the start of the Major Indoor Soccer League season. But almost midway through the 26-game schedule, the Blast has already had a nine-game winning streak — to start the year — and finds itself atop the standings with a 10-2 record.
Chemistry woes? Not for the Blast.
"We've really jelled together on and off the field, and we're just one big family," veteran forward Machel Millwood said. "You can really see that when we're on the field. It doesn't matter who gets the points or who is the best player on any given night — we're just out there all with the same cause."
Going into this weekend's back-to-back home games against the Rochester Lancers (5-7) — Baltimore ended a two-game skid with a 17-4 road win over them on Jan. 1 – the Blast has a one-game lead on the second-place Milwaukee Wave (8-2).
Both games this weekend against Rochester — Friday and Saturday — are set for 7:35 p.m. at 1st Mariner Arena. A win Friday would match the 1993-94 Baltimore Spirit's mark of seven straight home wins.
The Blast has been equally effective at both ends, scoring 13.8 points per game and limiting opponents to 7.5 points — both are best in the league.
Millwood leads the team in scoring with 34 points, which ranks sixth in the league, and seven others have 18 or more points in the balanced offense.
Rookie goalkeepers William Vanzela (6-2 with a league-low 6.69 points allowed) and Troy Hernandez (4-0, 9.25) have excelled at adjusting to the indoor game, with strong defensive support from everyone in front of them.
"It's a credit to the group of guys we have right now that everyone is buying into what we need to do to get results," Blast coach Danny Kelly said. "It's not about any one guy. We knew early on, with both William and Troy new to the indoor game, that we were going to have to be very good defensively to give ourselves a chance to win. That's no disrespect to the goalies, but it's a difficult game to come in and do well in. But they have done well to pick things up quickly, and the team has done well to defend in front of them."
In opening the 2013 portion of the schedule with the rout against the Lancers on New Year's Day, six different Blast players scored. Rookie Lucas Roque led the way with two goals. The balance on offense has become one of the team's most valuable trademarks.
"Chemistry is a funny thing. You don't always have it," Kelly said. "But this group does, and it comes from the hard work they've been through together starting at training camp. I think a lot of people were doubting us in the beginning of the season … thinking we're not going to be the team we've been in the past. We're on our way to proving those people wrong, and it's about the group of 18 guys that are getting the job done.
"I'm by no means looking at us at 10-2 and thinking we're great. We know we still have work to do. There's a lot of good signs moving forward, but we also know we have to maintain our focus and know there's a lot of things we can get better at. We're at the halfway point of the season, I like where we're at, but by no means are we satisfied."
Rochester Lancers (5-7) at Blast (10-2)
When: Friday and Saturday, 7:35 p.m.
Site: 1st Mariner Arena
Outlook: After losing consecutive road games to the Chicago Soul and Milwaukee Wave, ending its season-opening nine-game winning streak, the Blast righted the ship on New Year's Day with a dominating 17-4 win at Rochester. Now, the Blast will face the same Lancers on back-to-back nights this weekend with a chance to increase its one-game lead atop the Major Indoor Soccer League standings. Two-time defending league champion Milwaukee is in second place with an 8-2 record. In claiming its second win of the season against Rochester on Tuesday, the Blast scored the game's first 12 points to take control. The game became heated — particularly in the second quarter, when 16 penalty minutes were issued — and it will be important for the Blast to stay focused in this weekend's games. Machel Millwood leads the Blast with 34 points, while the Lancers boast the league's leading scorer, Doug Miller, who has 58 for the season. On Friday, the first 2,000 fans who are 14 years old and under will receive a free Blast mini soccer ball.