The traffic in front of Blast goalie Sanaldo's locker after last night's game didn't let up. Teammates, coaches, front office staff, reporters, everyone wanted to talk to Sanaldo about what he did when the Blast needed him most.
Sanaldo stepped in for injured starter Sagu and turned in a magnificent performance, making 22 saves as the Blast pulled out a 4-2 victory over the St. Louis Steamers in Game 1 of the Major Indoor Soccer League championship series before 5,848 at 1st Mariner Arena.
The win gives the Blast a 1-0 lead in the best-of-two series. Game 2 will be tomorrow in St. Louis, and the Blast needs to win that or - if the Steamers win the game - the golden-goal overtime session. A victory would give the Blast its third MISL championship in four years.
Sanaldo was pressed into service after starting keeper Sagu's pulled calf muscle didn't heal in time. Sagu said afterward that it's "70 percent" likely he can play tomorrow, but Sanaldo looked just like a starter on this night.
"Words can't describe the way he played," said Blast defender Billy Nelson. "He was just great."
The Blast needed to work a little harder on defense to help Sanaldo, who hadn't played since April 2. The Blast appeared rattled by an early St. Louis goal but slowly began to take charge as Sanaldo kept making saves.
"Even though they scored early on, I felt confident because I know the team is playing well in front of me," Sanaldo said. "It was not only me, but my team."
Player-interim coach Danny Kelly said he loved how the Blast never stopped playing hard on defense. The Blast blocked 21 shots, led by Wendell Regis (seven) and Nelson (six), which proved important as St. Louis held a 45-25 advantage in shots on goal.
The Steamers outshot the Blast 18-5 in the fourth quarter alone, but the home team scored the period's only goal.
"If we can do this on Sunday and play that good team defense, we'll give ourselves a chance to win," Kelly said. "This team's capable of very good things."
St. Louis started quickly, nearly scoring in the first minute and taking a 1-0 lead on Sandre Naumoski's goal 1:25 into the game. But the Blast slowly took charge after that.
Giuliano Celenza had a hand in the first two Blast goals. He assisted Robbie Aristodemo 13:53 into the game and then poked in a loose ball in front for a 2-1 lead with 12:59 left in the half. Adauto Neto then worked his way through three Steamers, pulled goalie Brett Phillips out and scored for a 3-1 lead with 7:04 remaining in the half.
Sanaldo finished with 11 stops in the fourth quarter alone, repeatedly frustrating St. Louis.
"This is indoor, and if you don't finish your chances, you're going to wind up digging the ball out of the net on the other end," said Phillips, who had 13 saves.
St. Louis 1 1 0 0 - 2
Blast 1 2 0 1 - 4
First quarter: 1. St. Louis Naumoski (Walton) 1:25. 2. Blast Aristodemo (Celenza) (PPG) 13:53. Penalties: Martinez, St. Louis (charging from behind), 13:50. Second quarter: 3. Blast Celenza (Millwood) 2:01. 4. Blast Neto (Wakefield) 7:56. 5. St. Louis Reininger (Farias) (RSG) 12:53. Penalties: None. Third quarter: None. Penalties: Namazi, St. Louis (dissent), 3:51. Tschantret, Blast (tripping), 9:10. Aristodemo, Blast (striking), 10:59. Bench, St. Louis (illegal sub - free kick), 12:58. Fourth quarter: 6. Blast Steele 7:30. Penalties: Garcia, Blast (unsportmanlike conduct), 9:33. Shots on goal: St. Louis 7-12-8-18-45; Blast 7-6-7-5-25. Penalty kick conversions: St. Louis 0 of 0, Blast 0 of 0. Shootout conversions: St. Louis 0 of 0, Blast 0 of 0. Power-play conversions: St. Louis 0 of 2, Blast 1 of 2. Saves: St. Louis, Phillips 13, Bollella 0; Blast, Sanaldo 22. A: 5,848. Officials: Rich Grady, Tim Tyma, Mark Bailey.