Blast win championship with 'Baltimore workmanlike attitude'

The morning after the Blast rallied to win two games against Soles de Sonora in Hermosillo, Mexico, to claim their second straight Major Arena Soccer League championship and bring home Baltimore's ninth professional indoor soccer title, Blast owner Ed Hale Sr. proudly described his team as a "lunch pail group with a Baltimore workmanlike attitude."

The Blast defied the odds in coming back to claim a 9-8 overtime win in Game 2 followed by a thrilling 1-0 clincher in the 15-minute mini-game — all after the team set itself up to fall with a disappointing performance in Friday's 4-2 Game 1 loss to the Soles in Baltimore.

Forward Vini Dantas, the championship series Most Valuable Player who capped his playoff run with the championship-deciding goal, said over and over how much "heart" the team has.

Having beaten Sonora on its home field to clinch last year's championship, coach Danny Kelly said: "We came here knowing we could win, regardless of the situation."

As for the situation at hand, the Blast were going up against a team that had not lost in its tiny arena all season and had 8,000-plus fans hovering over them strongly supporting their Soles.

The Blast fell quickly behind 6-3 in the third quarter of the second game and were able to avoid panic and climb back to get even at 7 in the closing seconds.

Then Sonora star Franck Tayou scored with 18 seconds left in the fourth quarter to make it 8-7.

"My first thought was 'Oh my God — what just happened?'" Dantas said. "But my second thought was we still had 18 seconds left."

Kelly said there's no set play that follows, the aim is to just get the ball in the opponent's end and attack.

Defender Adriano Dos Santos, who Kelly often calls "the heart and soul of the team," attacked like no other.

Dos Santos charged his way right to the Soles' goal line to somehow find his way behind Sonora goalie Diego Reynoso. Falling to the ground, Dos Santos located the ball and willed it to the back of the net using his knee.

"Adriano won the ball like he always does … he just battled and made it happen," Kelly said.

That made him the first of many heroes Sunday night. Goalie William Vanzela was superb in both games and particularly in the overtime that followed Dos Santos' goal. And then Juan Pereira got behind the Soles' defense to collect a pass from Dantas and score, forcing the 15-minute mini-game.

After more stops from Vanzela, it was fitting that Dantas scored the winner with 5:03 left in the 15 minutes of play. In Game 2, he had two goals — including one that tied the game at 7 late — and dished out three assists to finish the postseason with a league-high 19 points. 

Dantas was injured in the middle of last season and, while he enjoyed the team's championship run and felt a part of it, making such a huge impact this time around was so much more rewarding.

"It feels amazing," he said. "To help my team like that is awesome. I wanted it so much. I watched it last year and we won and it was amazing, too, but it was hard to sit out."

All the Blast stars did their part as expected.

Captain and leading scorer Tony Donatelli brought his typical composed play and chipped in two goals in Game 2. Defender Pat Healey, assigned the difficult task of marking the gifted Tayou, never relented and added the assist on Dantas' championship-winning goal. Forward Andrew Hoxie, who scored the two game-winning goals to get the Blast past the Harrisburg Heat in the playoff's opening round, had an impressive turn and shoot to close the Blast within 7-6 late in the third quarter.

The younger players also did their share with midfielder Geaton Caltabiano, Jereme Raley and Josh Hughes all logging quality minutes. Caltabiano, a Mount Saint Joseph and UMBC grad, scored the Blast's first goal.

"It's just incredible and really still hasn't sunk in yet," Kelly said Monday morning as the team was headed to the airport to return to Baltimore. "It's just the belief in who we are and the mystique of who we are. We just believe we can always win no matter what the situation and we created more of that mystique." 

In winning last year's championship, the Blast went 6-0 in the playoffs with two-game sweeps against the Syracuse Silver Knights (Eastern Division final), Missouri Comets (Eastern Conference final) and then Sonora in the league final.

It wasn't easy, however.

Four of the wins came in overtime — one in double overtime and a second in triple overtime — with the Blast getting an overtime goal from Donatelli to seal the league crown with a 14-13 overtime win against Sonora in Mexico.

The Blast's path this year needed even more resolve.

After opening with an upset home loss against the Harrisburg Heat in the Eastern Division final, they went to Harrisburg and rallied from a 3-0 deficit in Game 2 before winning the deciding mini-game.

In the Eastern Conference final, the Blast were again pushed to the limit against the Milwaukee Wave before claiming a 2-1 road win in the mini-game.

glenn.graham@baltsun.com

twitter.com/GlennGrahamSun

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