The Blast welcomed an old rival, the San Diego Sockers, back to town Friday night and the home team got a satisfying measure of revenge.
Captain Pat Healey and Adriano Dos Santos each scored two goals, forward Lucas Roque provided three assists, and goalie William Vanzela made nine saves as the Blast came away with an 8-5 win over the Sockers before an announced 8,953 at Royal Farms Arena.
The Blast improved to 5-0, atop the Major Arena Soccer League's Eastern Division, while the Sockers fell to 2-3.
Back in the glory days of professional indoor soccer in the 1980s, the teams met in four thrilling championship series, with San Diego claiming all four titles. When the teams reunited in the MASL last year, the Sockers won the only meeting in San Diego — handing the Blast one of its two losses during the regular season.
On Friday night, the Sockers' first visit to Baltimore since 2004, the Blast made sure the energized crowd left happy.
"As a coach and as players, this is the type of game you want to play in," Blast coach Danny Kelly said. "San Diego is a great team, they've won championships like we've won championships, and to play them here again in Baltimore is huge. We knew it was going to be a great challenge for us and we were up for the challenge. The crowd was great and we played very well. To hold a great team to five goals is a great effort on our part."
Said Healey: "The crowd was into it, the rivalry is special and everybody knows about it. It's one thing to talk about it, but to feel it [is great]."
With a 6-4 lead going into the fourth quarter, the Blast got a goal from Vini Dantas, his team-high eighth of the season, on a power play in the opening minute and Dos Santos scored his second of the game shortly after. The defense took care of the rest to secure the win.
The Sockers provided the first significant test of the season for the Blast, which piled up 33 goals while allowing just seven in its first four wins.
The first half had quality play from both sides with highlight goals as well as some big stops. The Blast outshot the Sockers 15-8 and got goals from five players to claim a 5-3 lead going into halftime.
The home crowd had something to cheer about immediately when Onua Obasi finished off a nifty give-and-go from Tony Donatelli 29 seconds into play. But the Sockers quickly responded with a goal from Eddie Valez less than a minute later.
The teams exchanged goals again — the Blast scoring and the Sockers answering quickly — before the home team scored two goals in the final three minutes of the first quarter to build a 4-2 advantage. Vanzela set up the Blast's third goal, sending a pass from midfield that Juan Pereira headed home at the far post with 2:55 to play.
After San Diego goalie Chris Toth made a brilliant point-blank save on Obasi with the Blast down a man, Victor Quiroz scored a power-play goal seconds later to get San Diego back within 4-3 early in the second quarter.
"You just have to embrace the challenge," Healey said. "This was a playoff-type atmosphere … and every mistake is critical. We made some mistakes early but, we got through it."
Blast rookie Jinho Kim closed out the first half scoring midway through the second quarter with a nifty goal off a feed from Roque to make it 5-3.
The teams exchanged goals in the third quarter, Healey giving the Blast a 6-3 lead before Craig Chiles got the goal back for the Sockers.
"We knew coming in that San Diego was probably the best team we have seen so far and we were looking forward to this game to see where we're at," Kelly said. "We took a huge step forward, but we know we still have a lot of work to do."
His captain agreed.
"It's a progression for us," Healey said. "We don't want to be our best at the beginning of the season, we want to do that in March. Can we get better every day? This was a test for us to see where we're at right now. Some good things, some bad things and we learn from it."