Another one-goal game. Another win. And, for the two-time defending Major Arena Soccer League champion Blast, one step closer to another title.
For a fifth time this season, the Blast proved one goal better than the Syracuse Silver Knights on Sunday, and this time, the stakes were higher as their 5-4 win completed a two-game sweep in the Eastern Division finals.
Forward Vini Dantas scored two goals and added a key assist late, and goalkeeper Joey Kapinos made 13 saves as the Blast survived another considerable test from the Silver Knights before an announced 3,611 at Towson University's SECU Arena.
Baltimore will host the Milwaukee Wave, who swept the Cedar Rapids Rampage in the Central Division finals, for the Eastern Conference championship at 7:35 p.m. Friday. It's a one-game final with the winner advancing to the MASL championship game.
With 2:50 to play Sunday, Daniel Peruzzi scored in front off a wall pass from Dantas to give the Blast a 5-3 lead. It proved to be the game-winning goal after Syracuse midfielder Kenardo Forbes, playing as an extra attacker, scored with 12.3 seconds to play.
The Blast (19-5) improved to 11-3 in one-goal games.
"It was a good team effort," Dantas said. "They got really good players. They got guys that can shoot the ball, and we knew we had to defend hard. Coach [Danny Kelly] gave us a target of keeping them at four goals, which we did and we won the game."
As in their 7-6 Game 1 win at Syracuse on Thursday night, the Blast built a lead and then fended off the Silver Knights.
The two-time defending MASL-champion Blast open the playoffs by facing the Syracuse Silver Knights in the Eastern Division final. The teams start the best-of-three series Thursday in Syracuse before heading to Baltimore for Game 2 on Sunday with a deciding 15-minute mini-game to follow if needed.
Leading 2-1 at the half, the Blast pushed the advantage to 4-1 with two grinding goals in the third quarter. In the opening minute, defender Pat Healey scrapped for a loose ball in the right corner and nudged a ball across for Tony Donatelli to finish in front for a 3-1 lead.
With 4:56 to play, Peruzzi won a challenge to get a ball ahead to Jereme Raley, who passed across for Dantas to make it 4-1.
The Silver Knights got a goal right back when Logan Roberts scored, and then Bo Jelovac cut the lead to 4-3 with 13:48 left in the fourth quarter before the Blast's defense and then Peruzzi's insurance goal proved the difference.
Another tough assignment awaits Friday with the rival Wave coming to town.
"It's going to take a whole lot," Kelly said. "They're another team we have a tremendous amount of respect for. They have a lot of really good players and they're a team that has been traditionally a powerhouse in this league. We're looking forward to the challenge."
A question left to be answered is who will be in the goal for the Blast. Star goalkeeper William Vanzela, still recovering from a groin injury, practiced last week and warmed up before Sunday's game, but wasn't ready to give it a go. His status will continue to be day to day.
"William is pretty close. He wanted to play tonight," Kelly said. "I didn't think it was in the best interest of the team for him to play just because he's not where he needs to be and Joey has been playing well. We'll make a determination probably on Thursday night."
The first half was typical Blast-Silver Knights, with tight defense and little separation as the Blast took a 2-1 advantage into halftime.
The visitors scored in the opening minute, Patrick Thompson finishing off a ball sent in front by Joey Tavernese, but the Blast defense tightened the rest of the half.
Dantas tied the game with a textbook indoor goal coming with 10:40 left in the first quarter. Stationed at the top of the scoring circle, he took an entry pass from Jonatas Melo, quickly turned and fired a shot inside the left post.
The Blast outshot the Silver Knights 24-14 in the first half, but both goalies were mostly up to the task. Forward Jamie Thomas gave the Blast the 2-1 lead with 5:28 to play in the second quarter when he pounced on a rebound off a shot by Raley.