It's easy to understand why the Blast might have taken the Pennsylvania Roar lightly, given its slow start Friday night.
Going into the game, the Blast had beaten the Major Indoor Soccer League expansion team in their first four meetings by a combined margin of 90-7, including two rare shutouts.
Maybe it was because of a 12-day layoff in between games. Or maybe it was the early start time — 7:05 p.m. instead of the typical 7:35 p.m. at Baltimore Arena — that made the Blast's offense a no-show for more than a quarter.
Regardless, the Blast never was seriously threatened. And when Lucas Roque lofted a three-point goal from near midfield over goalkeeper Peter Pappas with 11:02 to play in the second quarter, the Blast had the lead for good on the way to another comfortable result, this time a 23-6 win over the Roar before an announced 6,246.
"At the end of the day, we got the result we were looking for," Blast coach Danny Kelly said. "But I kind of knew going into the game, any time you have a layoff like that….I kind of anticipated some rustiness coming in, which still doesn't make me feel any better."
The Blast was quicker to the ball, more skilled and better organized throughout the game. The hosts got goals from nine players, with Tony Donatelli's two-goal, one-assist performance leading the way. Adauto Neto added one goal and two assists, and Mike Lookingland (Loyola High) finished with one goal and one assist. Backup goalkeeper Troy Hernandez made seven saves in the win, with the Blast having a 35-20 advantage in shots.
The Blast improved to 14-3 on the season and stayed within a game of the first-place Milwaukee Wave (15-2) with three games left in the regular season. The Blast returns to Baltimore Arena on Saturday to take on the Syracuse Silver Knights, and former star Denison Cabral will be inducted into the Baltimore Blast Hall of Fame in a halftime ceremony. The team's busy weekend concludes with a Sunday-afternoon road game against the Rochester Lancers.
"We're chasing Milwaukee and we have to win every game," Kelly said. "We know they have the tiebreaker, we know this is a tough weekend for us after the layoff. We got the first one, but we know Syracuse is going to be tough. We may see each other in the playoffs and they may want to send a message and all the games have, for the most part, been close. We're going to have to be better than we were tonight, for sure."
A couple minutes after Roque's opening goal Friday, the Blast made it 5-0 when Donatelli converted off a feed from Lookingland with 7:17 to play in a first half that ended with a a 16-5 Blast advantage in shots. Neto, Levi Houapeu and Diego Zuniga scored goals early in the second half to build the lead to 11-0 before Pennsylvania ended another shutout bid with a goal from Jordan Thomas with 6:14 left in the third quarter.
Pappas, who is retiring at season's end after a 14-year career that included two championships with the now-defunct Philadelphia KiXX, played his final game in Baltimore. He was recognized during a timeout late in the fourth quarter and received a warm ovation from Blast fans.
Pennsylvania 0 0 4 2 -- 6
Blast 0 5 10 8 -- 23
Scoring: 1. Blast, Roque, 3 pt., 3:58; 2. Blast, Donatelli, 2 pt., (Lookingland), 7:43;
Penalties: Pennsylvania, Hall, (fourth foul), 8:26
Scoring: 3. Blast, Neto, 2 pt., (Zuniga), 1:29; 4. Blast, Houapeu, 2 pt., (Noone), 3:47; 5. Blast, Zuniga, 2 pt., (Donatlelli), 8:13; 6. Pennsylvania, Thomas, 2 pt., 8:46; 7. Pennsylvania, Onwuka, 2 pt., (Rivillo-Ruiz), 10:46; 8. Blast. Donatelli, 2 pt., (Neto), 12:05; 9. Blast, Lookingland, 2 pt., 12:54
Penalties: Pennsylvania, Pappas, (delay of game), 12:52
Scoring: 10. Blast, Dos Santos, 3 pt., 1:08; 11. Blast, Ferdinand, 3 pt., 3:33; 12. Blast, Noone, 2 pt., (Neto), 4:02; 13. Pennsylvania, Martyn, 2 pt., (Rivillo-Ruiz), 4:50
Penalties: Blast, Ferdinand, (tripping), 9:08
Shots: Pennsylvania 3-2-6-9 -- 20; Blast 7-9-10-9 -- 35 .
Power-play opportunities: Pennsylvania 0-for-1; Blast 0-for-1.
Goalie saves: Pennsylvania, Pappas 6-3-3-4 -- 16; Blast, Hernandez 1-1-1-4 -- 7.
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