Comeback leaves Blast alone in first place

The Baltimore Sun

Stockton, Calif. -- The Blast overcame a second-half deficit yesterday and claimed sole possession of first place in the Major Indoor Soccer League standings.

Billy Nelson pocketed a pair of goals and teammate Robbie Aristodemo recorded two assists in an 8-6 victory against the California Cougars, who have dropped 13 of their past 14 games.

In contrast, the Blast now travels to Detroit, the team it overtook in the standings, on Thursday in search of its ninth consecutive win. The franchise record is 10, set in the 1993-94 season.

"It's nice to be in first place, but it doesn't mean that much," Blast coach Danny Kelly said. "Every game in this league is a tough game."

A win at Detroit also would give the Blast a franchise record for consecutive road victories with five.

"We're going to prepare this week, but if we want to do anything in the playoffs we're going to have to play better than we did [last night]," Kelly said.

Down 4-2 at the half, the Blast took advantage of a late second-quarter penalty and tied the game during an early third-quarter power play. P.J. Wakefield took a short pass from Aristodemo and aimed an uncontested shot directly past keeper Bayard Elfvin.

Minutes later, Denison Cabral gave the Blast its first lead with a solo strike just inside the arc. Nelson's second goal, also coming during a power play with 6:31 remaining, came off Aristodemo's pass for an 8-4 lead.

That ended an 8-0 run as the Blast, and goalkeeper Brian Rowland, shut out California for all but the final 16 seconds of the second half.

"We created a lot of problems for ourselves in the first half with bad passes. California put us under pressure. To their credit, they played us tough," Kelly said.

The Cougars, who had dropped five straight going into the contest, battled the Blast throughout a scoreless opening quarter. In fact, the Cougars allowed just three shots on goal, while Rowland saved five.

The scoreboard finally lit up when the Cougars struck for a 2-0 lead when Brian Farber pressed his luck and took a low-percentage shot from 30 feet away. The ball pin-balled off the legs of two teammates and quickly through Rowland's legs with 9:30 remaining in the half.

The Cougars were thinking of an upset later in the quarter when they raised the lead to 4-0 on a solo turnaround shot by Aaron Susi from short range. But just 14 seconds later the Blast answered with a clean shot by Nelson from 20 feet out.

His seventh goal of the season cut the deficit to 4-2 with 3:10 remaining. It stayed that way until halftime, with each team able to kill a penalty.

California was playing without Vicente Figueroa, its second-leading scorer, due to an accumulation of yellow cards.

"Our season started out 7-9 so our playoffs started early," Kelly said. We knew we needed to start playing better if we were even going to make the playoffs. That's been our goal all season."

Blast 0 2 6 0 - 8

California 0 4 0 2 - 6

First quarter: Penalities: Blast, Chin, too many men, 13:19.

Second quarter: 1. California, Farber (2 pts.), (Mesanovic), 5:31; 2. California, Susi (2pts.), (Mesanovic), 11:36; 3. Blast, Nelson (2pts.), 11:50. Penalties: California, Kafedzic, tripping, 8:12; California, Tovar, holding, :27. Third quarter: 4. Blast, Wakefield (2pts.), (Aristodemo), :27; 5. Blast, Cabral (2 pts.), 5:30; 6. Blast, Nelson (2pts.), (Aristodemo), 8:29. Penalties: Blast, Nelson, tripping, 4:50; California, Susi, tripping, 5:23; California, Santana, tripping, 5:30. Fourth quarter: 7. California, Sutton (2pts.), (Kafedzic), 14:44. Penalities: California, Sutton, dangerous play, 10:19; Blast, Cabral, boarding, 10:19; Blast, Cabral, unsportsmanlike conduct, 13:19. Shots-on-goal: Blast 3-4-9-6-22; California 5-3-7-10-25. Power-play opportunities: Blast 2-for-4. California 0-for-2. Goalies: Blast, Rowland 0-0-5-6-11; Aristodemo 4-1-1-0-6; California, Elfvin 1-3-3-3-10; Santana 0-0-0-2-2. Att: 3,809.

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