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Blast tries to frustrate one more opponent as championship series begins

For The Baltimore Sun
The Blast will try for hits eigth indoor soccer championship in this weekend's MASL championship series.

Just moments after the Blast clinched the Major Arena Soccer League Eastern Conference title, defender Pat Healey was sent sprawling to turf after being headbutted by Missouri Comets defender Andre Braithwaite during the postgame handshake.

Healey needed five stitches to close a two-inch gash just above his right eye. Braithwaite was indefinitely suspended by the league and released that evening by Missouri, which suffered its only two losses of the season in the playoff series against the Blast. The Comets' Brian Harris (three games) and John Sosa (one game) were also suspended for the start of next season.

"Missouri had not lost all season, and not only did we beat them, we outplayed them," Blast coach Danny Kelly said. "I think that was tough for them to swallow. I think they handled it very badly and with some cowardly, gutless actions at the end. That's on them. They got to live with that."

Throughout its long, storied history as an indoor soccer franchise, the Blast has maintained that ability to frustrate opponents. Sometimes, those feelings boil over and the Baltimore players are always aware the stakes are raised when they step on the field.

The Blast will look to take down another opponent in the MASL championship series against the Monterrey Flash, starting Friday night at Royal Farms Arena. Game 2 — and the tie-breaking minigame, if necessary — will be played Sunday in Monterrey. The Blast is shooting for its eighth overall indoor soccer championship in various leagues.

"We have a target on our back," said Healey, who won't miss the first game. "Guys in our locker room are used to it. We're going to get everybody's best shot. We always take that in stride. It's not who is the best team at the beginning. It's who is the best team at the end. We're very much focused on Monterrey now."

Kelly agreed opponents often rise to the occasion when they see the red, orange and yellow that have been the staple colors of the team's jerseys since its arrival in Baltimore in 1980.

"Everyone wants a piece of us," Kelly said. "Everyone wants to prove they can play with us and they can beat us. Our mentality is we don't care whether it's the first game of the season or the last game that doesn't necessarily mean anything in the standings. We don't want to get beat. We want to win. Period."

The Blast finished 18-2 in the MASL's inaugural season. They then took down the Rochester Lancers in the Eastern Division final before sweeping the Comets in the Eastern Conference final.

A solid core returned from the Blast team that lost last year to Missouri in the championship game for the now-defunct Major Indoor Soccer League. The team added eight rookies to the 20-man roster and Kelly said the they were able to overcome some growing pains.

"Our young players have really progressed very quickly, quicker than I expected," Kelly said. "Guys like Vini Dantas, Jonatas Melo, Juan Pereira and Onua Obasi and even Phil Saunders (Perry Hall, UMBC), our backup goalie, have done very well. The group has really come together. We have good chemistry and good players."

Monterrey advanced to the championship series by sweeping the Las Vegas Legends in the Western Conference finals. The Legends beat the Blast, 5-4, on Feb. 6.

The Flash is led by forward Erick Tovar, who leads all playoff scorers with 10 goals and an assist. Midfielder Felipe Gonzalez also had three goals in two games against Las Vegas.

Monterrey goalie Diego Reynoso has gone 11-1 since joining the team at midseason.

After hosting the Flash on Friday, the Blast will travel to Monterrey for Game 2 on Sunday. If the series is tied after the two games, a 15-minute mini game will be played immediately afterward to determine the winner.

This will be the first-ever meeting between the Blast and Flash. The Blast did beat the Monterrey La Raza, the Flash's predecessors, to win the 2008 MISL championship.

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MASL Ron Newman Cup Final

Blast (21-2) vs. Monterrey Flash (21-2)

(Best of three series)

Monterrey at Blast, Friday, 7:35 p.m.

Blast at Monterrey, Sunday, 6:05 p.m.

Blast at Monterrey, Sunday, 8:30 p.m. (mini-game, if neccessary)

Video: golivesportscast.com

Tickets (for Friday’s game): 410-73-BLAST, ticketmaster.com or baltimoreblast.com

Outlook: The Blast advanced to the championship round with a two-game sweep over the previously-undefeated Missouri Comets in the Eastern Conference finals, avenging a loss in last year’s Major Indoor Soccer League championship. Baltimore chases after the franchise’s seventh championship when it meets the Western Conference champion Flash. While the teams did not play in the regular season, they do have past history when they both competed in the Major Indoor Soccer League. Formerly nicknamed La RaZa, the Mexican-based team lost to the Blast in the 2007-08 championship series and then pulled off a two-game sweep in the 2009-10 semifinal round.

In reaching the inaugural MASL championship, the Blast leaned on its league-best defense to pull through against the Comets, who went into the series with a 21-0 mark as Central Division champions. Rookie Vini Dantas had a had trick in the deciding second game, including the game-winner in a 10-7 win in Missouri on Sunday. The physically-played series ended on a sour note as Comet defender Andre Braithwaite head-butted Blast standout defender and captain Pat Healey while the players were shaking hands following the game. Healey, who was largely responsible for containing league scoring leader Leo Gibson throughout the series, took stitches from the altercation but will be ready to play on Friday. William Vanzela, the league’s top goalie, picked up where he left off from the regular season with a 3-0 postseason mark. Leading scorer Tony Donatelli has four goals and an assist in the postseason.

The Flash, which matched the Blast’s 18-2 regular-season mark came out of the Western Conference with a two-game sweep of the Las Vegas Legends. Erick Tovar is in the midst of a huge playoff run with 10 goals and one assist in three games. The Blast also will have to keep close watch on Lourenco Andrade, who finished with 42 points (29 goals, 13 assists) to finish 13th in theleague in scoring during the regular season. Goalie Diego Reynoso is 3-0 in the playoffs with 29 saves and 11 goals against.

-- Glenn Graham