It appears the Blast has put itself in a commanding position, but going into what could be the deciding game of the Major Indoor Soccer League's championship series tonight, Blast players are quick to point out that so far they've accomplished nothing.
"It's this game that matters," Blast goalie Scott Hileman said. "If we don't win a third game, the first two are meaningless."
In an unexpectedly dominating performance that even the Blast players describe as surprising, the No. 2 seed took a 2-0 lead in games in Milwaukee against the No. 1 seed Wave last weekend. The Blast won, 12-3 and 8-4, and must win one of the remaining three games, either tonight or tomorrow at 1st Mariner Arena or next weekend at Milwaukee's U.S. Cellular Arena, to wrap up the best-of-five series and claim its second consecutive championship.
"I've told my team it's like boxing," Blast coach Tim Wittman said. "Once a guy is hurt, you just keep going at them and finish them off."
The Wave has to be desperate tonight. Another defeat would mean having to deal with losing in the championship series three straight years.
The Blast has gained the upper hand by getting all five field players behind the ball and playing team defense. When a Wave player mishandles a ball, the Blast has been there to double-team and make him pay.
"But we haven't done anything special," said Hileman. "We aren't keying on individual players. It's just that everyone is doing his job."
"We were shocked by our own results," said Blast captain Tarik Walker. "I don't think they expected us to play that well defensively. You could see the frustration building in their eyes and on their faces from the way Scottie was making saves and we were breaking them down."
The Blast has held Milwaukee forward Greg Howes, who dominated league scoring during the regular season, to one goal and one assist.
"It wasn't because we played [poorly]," Wave coach Keith Tozer told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel after Game 2. "I think Baltimore came out here and they were committed. They were strong. They won more tackles. They were faster. They were meaner. They were smarter.
"We've got to find a way to score goals. They nullified our offense."
No one on the Blast is expecting an easy game tonight.
"Keith Tozer is really good at analyzing film," said Blast forward Lee Tschantret. "I think they'll pressure us a lot more and try to get physical."
Despite dominance, Tozer and his team remain defiant, contending if the Blast can win two games in Milwaukee, the Wave can win two in Baltimore.
"I'll tell you this," he said, "there's going to be 16 guys and two coaches and a trainer on the bench, and we're going to do everything we can to win that game in Baltimore. This ship ain't down yet."
During the week, the Blast was asked about a letdown and about how it could fight off overconfidence. The looks returned by players were incredulous.
"This is a veteran team," Walker said. "And this is still a hungry team. Everyone has a bit of hatred for Milwaukee. We've had a rivalry for four or five years and except for the championship series last year, they've always come out on top. And even last year, we didn't get the credit. People said it was a fluke."
"Everyone inferred that Milwaukee was unlucky to have played us when we got on a hot streak," said Hileman. "I want to see what they'll say this time."
"We still want to prove something," Walker said. "We want to sweep them out."
Blast vs. Wave
(Best of five; *-if necessary)
Blast leads series 2-0
Game 1: Blast 12, Milwaukee 3
Game 2: Blast 8, Milwaukee 4
Tonight: at Blast, 7:35
*Tomorrow: at Blast, 6:05
*May 8: at Milwaukee, 8:35