The Baltimore Blast was nearly caught off guard Saturday night against the Tacoma Stars but finally rallied to put itself in position to take advantage of the coming schedule.
The Blast rallied to beat Tacoma, 5-4, on two fourth-quarter goals by Rusty Troy at the Baltimore Arena.
That victory, combined with Cleveland's 5-4 loss to the Wichita Wings, gives the Blast a half-game lead over the Crunch in fourth place in the Major Soccer League, the last qualifying spot for the playoffs.
Before the Blast left last week for a trip to England, coach Kenny Cooper designated Saturday's game and the team's next two home games "as our last real chance" to get in position to challenge for a better playoff position. Cooper also wants his team to send the message that it is a championship contender.
To do that, it will have to beat league-leading Wichita on Saturday and the last-place St. Louis Storm on Sunday to get above .500 before playing eight of its last 15 games on the road.
"If we had lost the Tacoma game, we'd have needed a week of excuses," said Troy, who is coming off one of the finest weeks in his career. "I probably haven't scored two goals like that since my rookie year."
Wednesday, Troy scored two goals in the Blast's 8-3 victory over Sheffield Wednesday in an English challenge match.
When he and the team returned home Thursday night, they were greeted with the news that the Major Indoor Soccer League Players' Association had filed a series of complaints with the National Labor Relations Board charging unfair labor practices by, among others, Blast owner Ed Hale and Cooper.
That news took some of the joy out of the win in England. "Whenever we get a piece of good news, we also get a piece of bad," said the Blast's Mark Mettrick. "It's detrimental to the game." It also caused Troy to resign as the Blast's player representative.
But none of it seemed to affect the team Saturday.
"The only problem we had was that we didn't expect Tacoma to run like they did," said Troy.
"We thought they would just drop back and counterattack, but that's not what they did at all. They came right at us," said Blast forward Rod Castro.
Tacoma came out in a man-to-man attack and played up-tempo. The Stars continually got the outlet pass and fast break going, but Blast goalkeeper Cris Vaccaro (13 saves) held the Stars in check, allowing two goals by Dale Mitchell and Gary Heale before the half.
Defenders Iain Fraser (two goals, one assist) and Emil Dragicevic (one goal, one assist) got Baltimore back to 3-3 and set the stage for Troy.
"It's always a good feeling to get the game-winning goal," said Troy, who had hoped he'd gotten it when he put the Blast up by 4-3 with 1 minute, 14 seconds gone in the fourth quarter. "But to get it the second time was even better."