Six Blast players combined for a team-record eight goals in the first half and the team played overall smothering defense as it beat the Cleveland Force, 8-3, last night at 1st Mariner Arena.
The win set up a final-game-of-the-season showdown here tonight with the Milwaukee Wave for the No. 1 seed in the Major Indoor Soccer League playoffs.
To set the stage, the Blast completed its sweep of the Force, winning the season series 5-0. It was the first time since 1993-94 that the Blast has managed a sweep of its decades-old nemesis.
"Baltimore played extremely well," said Cleveland coach Omid Namazi. "They knocked the ball around and didn't give us a chance to pressure them in their end. I felt, probably, this is one of the best games I've seen Baltimore play - ever."
Denison Cabral and Chile Farias each scored twice to lead the Blast attack. Chris Handsor, Allen Eller, P.J. Wakefield and Lee Tschantret each added one.
"The whole focus was to win the game," said Cabral. "We can't think too far ahead. The No. 1 thing is to finish the season on a confident note."
Only one game separates the Blast (25-10) and the Wave (26-9) after both teams won last night - Milwaukee defeated Philadelphia, 7-2.
But in the MISL tiebreaker system, the Wave leads in goal differential, and that means to earn the top seed the Blast has to beat the Wave by four or more goals.
"It's a big task," said Handsor. "We'll just set out to win the game, and whatever happens, happens."
What happened last night is the same thing that happened a week ago in Philadelphia. The Blast played tremendous defense, with everyone getting behind the ball, and the goals just kept coming.
"We don't play well when we have to come from behind," said Cleveland goalie Jim Larkin. "Tonight, we fell behind a great team. They're playing for the best record in the league, and it shows. They're playing with great confidence."
Cleveland, which had already clinched at least the sixth seed, can still finish fifth if it wins today in Philadelphia and Kansas City loses its home game with San Diego.
The Force actually broke on top in this game. It took advantage of an early Blast miscommunication at the corner of the net and, when the ball popped free, Joel Bailey put it into the open net at 2:24.
But that was Cleveland's first and last lead, and a sixth-attacker effort, including two minutes on the power play, over the final seven minutes of the game produced just one goal - with 9.6 seconds to play.
"We've taken one more step to where we want to be," said Handsor. "We'd like to have home field because it's great for our fans, great for revenue. But good teams win at home, and great teams win on the road. We want to be the kind of team that does both."
Cleveland 1 1 0 1 - 3
Blast 3 5 0 0 - 8
First quarter: 1. Cleveland, Bailey (Edgerton) 2:34; 2. Blast, Handsor (Kelly) 2:34; 3. Blast, Cabral (Farias) 5:00; 4. Blast, Eller (Tschantret) 10:22. Penalties: Cleveland, Evans (misconduct) 5:43.
Second quarter: 5. Cleveland, Maciel (unassisted) 1:31; 6. Blast, Cabral (Walker), power play, 5:00; 7. Blast, Farias (unassisted) 6:19; 8. Blast, Wakefield (Eller) 11:01; 9. Blast, Farias (unassisted) 12:05; 10. Blast, Tschantret (Celenza) 13:44. Penalties: Cleveland, Sutton (tripping) 4:52; Cleveland, Timbers (tripping) 7:11; Blast, Bench (dissent) 11:41.
Third quarter: None. Penalties: Cleveland, Ball (dissent) 6:06.
Fourth quarter: 11. Cleveland, Edgerton (Marinaro), sixth attacker, 14:51. Penalties: Cleveland, bench (misconduct) 5:49; Blast, Kelly (elbowing) 6:07; Blast, Kelly (tripping) 8:30.
Shots on goal: Cleveland - 5-5-1-6-17; Blast - 6-12-7-4-29. Power-play opportunities: Cleveland 0-for-2; Blast 1-for-3. Shootout opportunities: Cleveland 0-for-0; Blast 0-for-0. Goalkeepers: Cleveland, Larkin, 14 saves, Marinaro, 1 save; Blast, Hileman, 5 saves. A: 5,384.
Matchup: Milwaukee Wave (26-9) vs. Blast (25-10)
Site: 1st Mariner Arena
Radio: WCBM (680 AM)
Outlook: Tonight's game will decide the No. 1 seed for the Major Indoor Soccer League playoffs, which begin next week. Because the Blast beat Cleveland, 8-3, last night, it remains alive in the chase for the league's top spot. But Milwaukee also won last night - beating Philadelphia, 7-2 - and that means the Blast will have to beat the Wave by four or more goals to clinch the top spot. The Wave leads the season series, 2-1. The Blast reports no injuries. Milwaukee lists Troy Dusosky (knee) and Leighton O'Brien (abdomen) as probable.
- Sandra McKee