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Nostalgic week for Blast with San Diego Sockers visit highlighting pivotal stretch

For the dedicated, old-school Blast fans who followed the team in the original Major Indoor Soccer League’s glory days of the 1980s, the San Diego Sockers still might make your blood boil.

More recently, the home team’s championship work against the Sonora Soles — nail-biting, back-to-back Major Arena Soccer League titles in 2016 and ’17 — serves as fonder memories.

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The two teams will be at SECU Arena early next week to renew their rivalries with the Blast.

First up will be Sonora in a special Martin Luther King Jr. holiday matinee at 2:05 p.m. Monday. The Sockers visit at 6:05 p.m. Saturday.

Nostalgia aside, Blast coach Danny Kelly is looking to get on track after a 7-6 overtime loss to the Florida Tropics on Jan. 4 put the Blast at 4-5 on the season.

“Right now, what’s in front of us is two games that we need to win,” he said.

“We need to start playing better. We’ve been giving goals away and we got to stop the bleeding. It’s not panic mode by any means, but if we want to get into the playoffs, we got to start playing better and giving ourselves an opportunity to win games instead of giving away goals and giving away games.”

When Blast owner Ed Hale bought the team in 1989, the Sockers were at the end of professional indoor soccer’s biggest dynasty as the franchise won 10 championships from 1981 to 1992. Four of those titles came at the expense of the Blast, who managed to bring home the franchise’s first championship during that era when they beat the St. Louis Steamers in 1984.

Back then, the Baltimore Arena (now Royal Farms Arena) was regularly packed with Blast games proving a tough ticket.

The Blast featured the magic feet of legendary forward Stan Stamenkovic with Paul Kitson and Billy Ronson helping to carry the offense while the sturdy play of Mike Stankovic and goalie Scott Manning held down the fort on defense. The Sockers countered with the likes of Julie Veee, Kevin Crow, Steve Zungul, Branko Segota and Victor Nogueira.

The rival coaches were both fiery Englishmen — Kenny Cooper guiding the Blast and Ron Newman, whom the MASL championship trophy is now named after, in charge of the Sockers.

“It was always an ax fight — very, very tough,” Hale said. “There was a lot of animosity between the coaches and some of the players and the games were always very hard fought. They always had the edge on us. We were fairly even, but when it got down to it, they won every time.”

When the Blast last played Sonora in April 2017, the MASL championship was on the line in front of 8,000-plus fans at El Centro de Usos Multiples in Hermosillo, Mexico.

The deafening crowd noise reminded Hale of the heyday when he first bought the team. This time, though, his Blast came out on the winning side for a second straight year against the Soles — Vini Dantas scoring the only goal in the deciding 15-minute mini-game after the Blast came back from a three-goal deficit to win Game 2 earlier that night.

The Blast’s championship win the year before had much the same intensity in the same building, team captain Tony Donatelli the hero in a 14-13 overtime win for a two-game sweep.

“It was a tough atmosphere to go in and play, but it’s something we really enjoyed and we took that challenge,” Donatelli said. “It’s a dream for a player to be able to score the game-winning goal in overtime of the championship game after such a long year and all the battles you’ve gone through. To be able to end it with that kind of reward is something special I’ll never forget.”

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Donatelli hopes playing against Sonora — it’s the first regular-season meeting between the teams — will bring back the good championship memories and can be the fuel to bring home a win on Monday.

The Blast are in need, uncharacteristically sitting in fifth place in the Eastern Division. The Soles also are 4-5, good for third in the Western Conference. The Sockers own a 7-1 mark for second out West.

Good news for the Blast is the return of forward Lucas Roque, who tore his ACL in the midst of the 2017-2018 and missed all of last season. This will be his seventh season with the team.

“Lucas is an exceptional forward with a knack for scoring goals and we’ve lacked that ability,” Kelly said. “Everybody loves goal scorers, everybody needs goal scorers and we got ourselves another one in Lucas. I’m not putting this totally on him, as a group we have to be better, but it’s sure nice to have a player the caliber of Lucas on the field for you when you’re looking to score goals.”

SOLES@BLAST

SECU Arena, Towson University

Monday, 2:05 p.m.

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