The Cleveland Force and the Baltimore Blast go back decades and, over all those years, only five games separated them coming into last night's game. But the Blast has dominated recent history and continued doing so at 1st Mariner Arena.
With Giuliano Celenza recording his second three-goal game of the season, the Blast won, 8-2, stretching its winning streak over the Force to 10 games, including three this season.
"This was a big game for us," said Celenza, his left ankle wrapped in ice. "I have stretched ligaments, but with the big crowd and the adrenaline pumping, you don't feel it so much. We had to get the win."
The last time Cleveland (7-10) won here was March 16, 2003. After last night, the all-time series shows the Blast ahead 69-63. The teams will meet five more times this season. The Blast, now 10-11, had lost two straight before last night. It couldn't have scheduled a better opponent against which to get well.
Blast fans also seem to love seeing these teams go at it. Last night, the fifth-largest crowd since the 1992-93 season, 9,619, came to watch, despite the icy roads. Of the top 25 home crowds in the past 12 1/2 seasons, six have come at Blast-Cleveland games.
After this latest game, the Force's players were not available. They remained huddled in the visitors' locker room long after the Major Indoor Soccer League's 10-minute cooling-off rule expired, listening to a lecture from their coach, Omid Namazi.
The Blast was led by Celenza's hat trick, Danny Kelly's two goals (one of them 28 seconds into the game on a penalty kick) and P.J. Wakefield's one goal and three assists. Lee Tschantret and David Bascome also scored for the home team.
Blast captain Tarik Walker, playing in his 400th career game, assisted on Celenza's third goal.
The Blast also got another fine performance from goalie Brian Rowland (seven saves on nine shots). His counterpart, Jim Larkin, wasn't as good, stopping seven of 14.
The Blast pressured the Force in the early moments of every quarter. The bold play netted quick goals in three of them. Kelly scored on a penalty kick 28 seconds into the first period, Tschantret scored 1:25 into the second and Celenza completed his three-goal effort 54 seconds into the fourth.
Those goals were important, but the part of the game that especially pleased player-coach Tim Wittman, who has signed for the rest of the season, was the team's strong performance in the third quarter.
"We haven't been doing well in that third period," Wittman said. "And tonight we weren't completely healthy, either. ... But a crowd like this, when you're playing your second game in three days, it helped. Being at home helped, too."
And playing Cleveland didn't hurt.
Cleveland 0 1 0 1 - 2
Blast 2 2 1 3 - 8
First quarter - 1, Blast, Kelly (PPG PKG) 0:28. 2, Bal, Celenza (Wakefield) 14:17. Penalties - Larkin, Cle (Tripping), 0:26. Farias, Blast (Tripping), 7:25.
Second quarter: 3, Blast, Tschantret (Farias) 1:25. 4, Cle, Sutton (Ball) 4:17. 5, Blast, Celenza (Bascome) (PPG) 6:40. Penalties - Hall, Cle (Boarding), 4:41. Walker, Blast (Dissent), 10:40. Thompson, Blast (Dissent), 0:00. Third quarter: 6, Blast, Kelly (Wakefield) 8:11. Penalties - none Fourth quarter - 7, Blast, Celenza (Walker) 0:54. 8, Cle Handsor (Ball) 3:41. 9. Blast, Bascome (Millwood), 7:17. 10. Blast, Wakefield (Farias), 8:35. Penalties - Handsor, Cle (unsportmanlike conduct), 3:41. Shots on goal - Cleveland 2 --4- 5-8-19; Blast 5 --5- 3-7- 20. Penalty kick conversions - Cleveland -- 0-0; Blast 1-1. Power-play conversions - Cleveland -0 -1, Blast 2-2. Goalies - Cleveland, Jim Larkin (14, 7, 7, 59:58) John Ball (1, 0, 1, 0:02) Blast, Brian Rowland (9, 7, 2, 60:00) A -9,619.