The Blast took a calculated risk in its best-of-three Major Indoor Soccer League championship series against the rival and defending champion Milwaukee Wave, opting to play the first game on its home turf on Friday.
The idea was to set the tone, claim the all-important first win and then deal with wrapping up the championship in Milwaukee on Sunday.
The Wave had another idea.
With a stifling defense that resembled last year's championship win in Baltimore and a nifty three-goal performance from forward Marcio Leite, Milwaukee took a giant step toward repeating as champions with a dominating 14-2 win over the Blast before an announced crowd of 6,072 at 1st Mariner Arena.
"We generated a ton of chances and I thought we handled what they did very well," Blast coach Danny Kelly said. "A special player scored three goals for them. Marcio Leite is one of the top players in the league and he hurt us. And as the game wore on, we got a little frustrated because we weren't scoring, and then I think our defense suffered because of it. For me, at the end of the day, it's a loss and we have a game to win in Milwaukee."
It has to defeat the Wave twice in Milwaukee on Sunday with a win in the second game forcing a 15-minute mini game to ultimately decide the crown. Game 2 is set for 4:10 p.m. at U.S. Cellular Arena.
Both teams had identical 18-6 regular-season records to share the league's best mark, but Baltimore, winners of the Eastern Division, earned the top seed over the Central Division champions based on the head-to-head tie-breaker. The Blast decided to host the first game and the plan clearly backfired.
"It's about playing at home in front of our fans," Kelly said. "We won that choice and we travel one time now. We beat them here at home. For me it was a decision that in the past has worked in our favor and if I had to do it again, I would do the same thing."
In winning last year's one-game championship in Baltimore, the Wave made a strong commitment to defense — keeping all five players behind the ball and then content to counter on offense only when opportunities came about to win going away, 16-7. The visitors came with the same game plan this time as well and it once again proved highly effective.
The Blast spent much more time with the ball and had far more chances, outshooting the Wave, 34-14, but the visitors blocked 21 shots, got big saves from goalkeeper Marcel Feenstra (10 saves) and made the most of their limited scoring chances.