The Blast will have to confront a quick turnaround, minor injuries and a seasoned and well-rested Milwaukee Wave team tonight in the first game of the Major Indoor Soccer League semifinals at 1st Mariner Arena.
After eliminating the New Jersey Ironmen on Saturday night on the road with a grind-it-out 6-4 victory, the Blast will have enjoyed little recovery time before facing its oldest rival, a team that has not played in nearly two weeks.
"They've had a good rest, but sometimes that kind of break isn't good," said Blast midfielder Robbie Aristodemo, who has a sore hamstring. "It helps them with nagging injuries, but sometimes it takes time to get back into the speed of the game, at least a quarter. We'll try to get on them early."
"I think it's good that we've been playing," added forward Adauto Neto, who scored the winning goal against New Jersey. "That gives us momentum. It could hurt them to be off that long."
With the progress made by the Blast's youngsters during the regular season, the team has more reliable depth than a year ago when it just missed the playoffs. With only one player definitely out (injured midfielder Rey Martinez) the biggest problem facing coach Danny Kelly is choosing whom, among 21 players, to activate for the roster of 16.
"We've got a few guys a little dinged up, so that might play into it," Kelly said. "We know we're going to have a physical game with them."
For the second straight series, the Blast is playing the opener of a two-game series at home, a distinct advantage if the team wins, but a possible curse if it doesn't.
"When you win the first one at home, it gives you confidence going into the next one," Neto said. "It puts more pressure on the other team to win the next one. Then, if it gets to a golden goal [tiebreaker], it's more lucky than anything."
Aristodemo said: "It's a tough call where you want to play first. But if you lose at home, you're in trouble."
Milwaukee (22-8) tied the Detroit Ignition for first place during the regular season. Forward Greg Howes is a prolific scorer, but Kelly said "now, he has a great supporting cast. Whereas in the past, they might have been predictable as to what they'd do, they've added more threats to their team."
Aristodemo said: "They're very structured with a good coach and a lot of experience. We always seem to play Milwaukee in the games that matter the most."
Neto added: "This will be a very intense game. This is one of our biggest rivals."
Matchup -- MISL semifinals, Milwaukee Wave at Blast, Game 1
Site -- 1st Mariner Arena
Time -- 7:05
Radio -- 680 AM
Outlook -- The third-seeded Blast and second-seeded Wave met three times in the regular season, with the Blast winning two at home and the Wave winning at Milwaukee. In the games at 1st Mariner Arena, the Blast held Greg Howes, the Major Indoor Soccer League's top scorer with 130 points, to one assist, but in Milwaukee he had six points in a 16-12 Wave win. Marcio Leite is Milwaukee's second-leading scorer with 80 points. Denison Cabral leads the Blast with 88 points, and Machel Millwood has 83.