From the first day of indoor practice through each of their 11 on-the-field regular-season wins, the Baltimore Bays have had this weekend in mind.
Now, with the best from the U.S. Interregional Soccer League showcased at Du Burns Arena, coach Kevin Healey and his Bays are looking to bring an indoor soccer championship to Baltimore.
"We've worked hard both in the front office and on the field with all the emphasis on this final weekend," Healey said. "We're looking to put on a good show for Baltimore, and this should be a good tournament. We want to bring Baltimore a professional indoor championship."
The North Division champion Bays (12-0, including a forfeit victory) have earned the top seed in the league's four-team finals. Their title bid starts at 8:15 tonight when they take on the wild-card entry Chattanooga Express.
The three-day tournament begins at 6 p.m. when the defending league champ Atlanta Magic, 15-0 and seeded second, takes on the third-seeded Tulsa Roughnecks (9-3). Atlanta comes in as the Southeast Division champ, and Tulsa is the winner of the Southwest Division.
Healey said the Bays will look to do the things that got them here.
"We know some of the [opposing] players, and you talk around to get as much as you can, but on the first day you pretty much just go out and play," Healey said.
"We have to go with our own style and worry about doing our own things correctly. Things like marking up properly, playing fundamentally sound and moving the ball quickly."
"I'll be watching the other games looking for little pieces that I can find on teams to make adjustments for the next day."
Tomorrow afternoon's games will have the Bays taking on Tulsa at 3, and Atlanta facing Chattanooga at 5:30. The two teams with the best records in the two days will play in Sunday's title game at 3.
The Bays -- led by veterans Billy Ronson (16 goals, league-leading 34assists) and defender Mark Mettrick, three strong lines and two solid goalies -- plan to be one of them.
"The past two weeks we've been working extra hard on conditioning, and the practice sessions have gone real well," Healey said.
"It's going to be a big grind as the weekend goes on, and fitness will be a factor. As a coach, you look for your team to peak at the right time, and this is the time."
That's where the Bays' depth comes into play -- on the field and in goal. It's something some of the other teams may not have.
"You're not going to win it with just two good lines. Our third line will be a key, they've been tested throughout the season and are a part of the process this season. They are ready for this weekend."
"Having two goalies also is important in a weekend series like this. They get bumps and bruises, and it's tough to come back so quick."
Healey will start rookie Jason Wright in goal tonight and has the luxury of veteran Scott Manning to come back with tomorrow.
The Bays earned the top seed based on goal differential, but Atlanta may be the team to beat. The Magic has a 33-game winning streak that began before the Bays even existed, last losing to the Oklahoma City Warriors in the 1992 indoor finals.
Opponent: Chattanooga Express
Site: Du Burns Arena
Time: 8:15 (at 6, the Atlanta Magic will take on the Tulsa Roughnecks)
Tickets: There are two ticket plans for the three-day USISL National Championships this weekend. Tickets can be bought by the day at $10 each (two games each tonight and tomorrow afternoon, one final game Sunday afternoon) or for the weekend (five games) at $25.
Outlook: The top-seeded Bays (12-0, champion of the USISL's North Division) begin their quest for the league championship tonight against the wild-card entry Chattanooga Express. The Bays have outscored opponents 174-42. Veteran M Billy Ronson finished second in the league in scoring with 16 goals and a league-leading 34 assists. F Joe Layfield was fourth in the league with 22 goals. G Jason Wright was second in goals against with a 4.29 average in eight games. The fourth-seeded Express (11-5, second in the Southeast Division) are coached by Angus McAlpine, who coaches the U.S. Olympic Under-17 National Team. Matt Braines led the team with 23 goals and four assists for 50 points.