The Blast is acting like a team that is serious about its purpose.
After some initial confusion when the New Jersey Ironmen opened Thursday's quarterfinal playoff game by playing a zone defense Baltimore hadn't seen all season, the Blast accelerated into its own "zone" on offense. The home team peppered the Ironmen with goal after goal and romped to a 22-10 victory at 1st Mariner Arena.
So, when the two-game series resumes tonight at the new Prudential Center in Newark, the Blast will seek to advance to the Major Indoor Soccer League semifinals while facing an opponent that is expected to play much more aggressively this time.
"Maybe they did it to save a little bit of their legs for the second game," Blast captain P.J. Wakefield said of the zone.
Whatever the motivation, the expansion Ironmen are facing a now-or-never scenario against a team that leads the MISL in virtually every defensive category - against shots per game and points per game, and in power-play defensive average.
Machel Millwood, who had a hat trick and eight points in the opener and has amassed 21 points in five games against New Jersey, is anticipating the away game.
"For me, it's always good to play away from home because the guys on the team have to depend on each other," he said. "A game on the road shows the character of your team."
Millwood's "golden goal" brought the Blast its most recent MISL championship in 2006, but he does not want the situation to come to that.
"Hopefully, we can go through the playoffs without a golden goal," he said. "Once you get to that, it's anyone's game."
The catalyst that has the Blast playing its best soccer at the right time has been the defense headed by goalkeeper Sagu but invigorated by the dropback efforts of the forwards and midfielders, making it tough for the opposition to penetrate. The team is also healthy, with everyone able to contribute except Rey Martinez, who is out with an injury.
"We have to be committed and sacrifice on the defensive end," coach Danny Kelly said. "The job's not done. We have to continue what we've been doing - good, solid team defense."