The Blast completed its 2012-13 regular season with a fundamentally sound stamp of approval Saturday night against the two-time defending Major Indoor Soccer League champion Milwaukee Wave.
In a showdown for first place, the Blast defended more closely, scored the bigger goals and blanked the Wave in the fourth quarter to come away with a 10-6 win in front of an announced 6,386 at 1st Mariner Arena.
The Blast finishes with a 21-5 record and moves one game in front of the Wave, which falls to 18-4 with four games still to play before the regular season concludes next Sunday. If Milwaukee loses one of those games, the Blast will clinch first place based on head-to-head goal differential after the teams split four meetings.
"It was huge for us," said forward Lucas Roque, who led the Blast with two goals. "Beating Milwaukee — our biggest rival — and still trying to get first place, we knew how important this game was for us, so we came out with everything we had and I think we accomplished what we wanted."
The Blast is already assured at least the second seed and, regardless of where it finishes, will open the two-game semifinal round on the road against a still to be determined opponent before returning to 1st Mariner Arena on March 9 for a 7:35 p.m. game. Should the series be tied after the second game, the teams would immediately play a 15-minute mini game to determine who advances to the championship.
Saturday, Roque netted the game-winner with two seconds left in the third quarter on a textbook goal in indoor soccer.
Providing a target in front with his back to the goal, Roque took an entry pass from Max Ferdinand and then quickly turned and fired a shot to the far post to give the Blast an 8-6 lead.
"I saw the [quarter] was almost over, so I was asking for the ball," Roque said. "So when I got the ball, I had an opportunity and all I could think of was turning and getting a shot because the seconds were running."
Lucio Gonzaga made it 10-6 with 11:09 to play in the fourth, then the Blast's defense took care of the rest, with goalkeeper William Vanzela finishing with nine saves. Jamie Darvill and Gonzaga each finished with one goal and one assist.
After Gonzanga provided the 10-6 advantage, the Wave pressed but the Blast stood up to the challenge. After needing to make just two saves through the first three quarters, Vanzela made seven in the final one — the biggest coming with 2:28 left, when Giuliano Oliviero fired a point-blank shot from the left side with an extra attacker on.
A late goal from the Wave put a damper on an otherwise fine first quarter by the Blast, which took a 4-2 advantage into the second quarter. With the intensity cranked up high for the league's most fierce rivalry, it was apparent early that extra effort would be needed to get anything accomplished on offense. Darvill showed just that with his first career goal 2:39 into play. Making a strong run with the ball down the left, he sent a pass to J.T. Noone and then crashed the goal for a tap in front to give the Blast a 2-0 lead.
The Blast defended well throughout the quarter, successfully challenging a number of free kicks from the Wave and blocking six shots in front of Vanzela. After missing on a couple of quality scoring chances, the Blast took quick advantage of a power play when Adauto Neto finished off a wall pass from Lucio Ganzaga for a 4-0 lead with 1:46 left. But the Wave finally solved the Blast defense when Luan Oliviera scored on a free kick — this one in the lower left corner — to cut into the deficit.
The teams exchanged goals in the second quarter — the Blast getting one from Roque 1:03 into the quarter before Bryan Perez answered for the Wave midway through to make it 6-4. Blast defender Pat Healey helped keep the lead at 6-4 when he cleared a shot off the goal line in the closing seconds before the half.
"It was a great game for the fans and a great result for us," Blast coach Danny Kelly said. "Obviously we have a lot of respect for Milwaukee — they're the defending champions and we knew we would have to play very well to get a result. I thought it was an extremely great effort by everyone on the squad. William came up with big saves, we created a lot of opportunities and I thought we deserved to win."
Milwaukee 2 2 2 0 -- 6
Blast 4 2 2 2 -- 10
Scoring: 1. Blast, Darvill, 2 pt. (Noone), 2:39; 2. Blast, Neto, 2 pt., pp., (Gonzaga), 13:14; 3. Milwaukee, Oliviera, 2 pt., 14:23.
Penalties: Milwaukee, Moreira (tripping), 13:58.