Could a one-goal lead stand up in a Blast-Milwaukee Major Indoor Soccer League game with 14:33 left in the final, 15-minute period? Would a brilliant save by Blast goalie Brian Rowland on Milwaukee star Greg Howes with 7:14 to go be enough?
The answers came in their own excruciating time as a crowd of 5,239 at 1st Mariner Arena watched and cheered until the Blast finished off the Wave with an impressive, 5-4 victory.
The Blast will play in Chicago tonight.
"It was surprising a little bit," said Rowland, who made 20 saves while making his first start on home turf and earning his second victory.
"But after that shot by Howes, we were able to shut them down. They didn't get behind our defense the rest of the night. I'm feeling pretty good right now."
The Blast was without player/coach Tim Wittman, who was admitted to Union Memorial Hospital late yesterday afternoon with what doctors suspect to be kidney stones. It was also without Chile Farias - who is tied for the league lead in scoring with 18 points - for all but power plays due to a hamstring problem.
But adversity has been nothing if not familiar to the Blast this season. Before last night, four quality players were sidelined with knee injuries.
Last weekend, the team started to round itself into shape with an 11-7 victory in Cleveland that ended a five-game losing streak.
Last night, it barely paused to notice additional holes in its lineup. It used a strategy familiar to those who watched the Blast play last season, putting together a strong defense - with all five players protecting their end - and waiting for offensive opportunities to find them.
The Blast got two goals from David Bascome, who was playing in his 400th career game, an impressive goal and two assists from Machel Millwood, a goal from P.J. Wakefield and the game-winner on an unassisted effort by Giuliano Celenza.
Celenza scored with a display of dazzling footwork that allowed him to dribble through the entire Milwaukee defense.
"Celenza's goal was brilliant," said Wave coach Keith Tozer. "But I was extremely pleased with how we played. We had opportunities to tie and we brought effort and heart to the game."
But then, so did the Blast.
"Playing solid defense had something to do with the outcome," said Blast assistant coach Max Thompson, "But it was our heart that won the game."
The Blast built a 3-0 lead in the first half only to see Milwaukee produce goals by Troy Dusosky, Marcelo Fontana and Chris Morman to tie the game 5:50 into the third period. But 33 seconds later, the Blast showed its resiliency when Billy Nelson got the ball to Bascome for his second goal of the night for a 4-3 lead.
Several minutes later, Celenza put on his dribbling exhibition for what would be the game-winner.
"It was a game we had to win," said Bascome, 34. "We're under .500 and it's very important we stick together."
Milwaukee 0 1 2 1 - 4
Blast 2 1 2 0 - 5
First quarter 1. Blast, Wakefield (Millwood), 8:49; 2. Blast, Bascome (Millwood), 13:47. Second quarter 3. Blast, Millwood (Wakefield), 11:58; 4. Milwaukee, Dusosky (Howes), 13:49. Third quarter 5. Milwaukee, Fontana (Morman), 1:20; 6. Milwaukee, Mormon (Torres), 5:30; 7. Blast, Bascome (Nelson), 6:32; 8. Blast, Celenza, 12:25. Fourth quarter 9. Milwaukee, Acevedo (Schmidt), :27. Penalities: Milwaukee, Acevedo (holding), 9:15. Shots-on-goal: Milwaukee 7-12-5-6-30; Blast 5-4-6-3-18. Saves: Milwaukee, Green 11 saves, Dusosky 0 saves; Blast, Rowland 20 saves. Shootout conversions: Milwaukee 0-for-0; Blast 0-for-0. Power-play conversions: Milwaukee 0-for-0; Blast, 0-of-1. A: 5,239.
Matchup: Blast (4-6) vs. Chicago Storm (5-5)
Site: UIC Pavilion, Chicago
Radio: WCBM (680 AM)
Outlook: The Storm is waiting for the Blast, hoping to nip a two-game losing streak before it gets out of hand. But the weekend won't be easy for Chicago, which has to play again tomorrow afternoon in Philadelphia. It's not an unfamiliar situation as Chicago played the Blast and Philadelphia in back-to-back games in November on the road and won them both. The game in Baltimore was especially well played by both teams, with the Storm winning in large part because of a fine performance by goalie Danny Waltman, who saved 18 of 19 shots. Chicago reports only one player out with injury, Matthew Stewart (left knee sprain).