Pushed to the absolute limit by the Syracuse Silver Knights in the Major Indoor Soccer League's semifinal round, the Blast showed why it is the league's defending champion Tuesday at Baltimore Arena.
Forced to play a deciding, 15-minute minigame after the Silver Knights claimed the second game earlier of the semifinal series earlier in the evening, the Blast scored and defended just enough to come away with a thrilling, 4-3 win and earn the right to defend its crown.
Syracuse took a 9-6 win in Game 2 with a strong fourth quarter to tie the series at 1, but the Blast regrouped and did what it took to move forward in front of an announced crowd of 3,822.
It wasn't easy. After Marco Mangione scored on an incredible individual effort – following his own miss with 5:07 to play – the Blast had a 4-0 advantage with Mike Lookingland providing the first goal two minutes into play on a penalty kick.
But Slavisa Ubiparipovic scored a three-point goal with two minutes to play and the Silver Knights pressed the rest of the way.
The Blast's defense didn't blink. Ubiparipovic had Syracuse's last chance with a free kick with 4.5 seconds to play, but his soft chip caromed above the goal, bounced in front and was finally cleared as the final whistle sounded.
"It's a shame somebody had to lose," Mangione said. "Both teams played really hard and it went down to the wire. But we put a lot of time into the season, and we didn't want to give it up."
The Blast will advance to the best-of-three championship series against the Missouri Comets in a rematch of last year's final.
The Comets will host the first game of the series at 8:35 p.m. Friday at Independence Events Center in Independence, Mo., before moving to Baltimore for the second game at 5:05 p.m. Sunday. If the series is tied after the second game, a 15-minute minigame will take place immediately after to crown the champion.
The Blast opened the semifinal round with a 20-7 win at Syracuse.
In the second game of the series on Tuesday, the Silver Knights took control in the second half, answering every push from the Blast in the fourth quarter to claim the 9-6 win and force the decisive minigame.
Antonio Manfut scored a three-point goal to give Syracuse a 7-2 lead with 8:21 left, but the Blast's offense finally reappeared when Tony Donatelli cut the lead to 7-4 with 5:53 to play. The goal ended the Blasts' 48-minute scoring drought.
The Silver Knights weren't fazed and quickly answered when Kenardo Forbes fired home a shot from the top of the scoring arc less than one minute later to make the vistors' lead 9-4.
With the Blast using an extra attacker, Donatelli scored his second goal to cut the lead to 9-6 with 1:55 to play, but Syracuse handled the pressure the rest of the way.
Responsible defense from both teams dominated a first half that ended in a 2-2 tie. The Blast, which had more time with the ball in the first 30 minutes, produced the game's first goal when Lucas Roque scored from the left side for a 2-0 lead with 8:58 to play in the first quarter.
The Silver Knights answered four minutes later when Nate Bourdeau finished from out front.
The best chance in a quiet second quarter came with 2:32 left when Blast forward Max Ferdinand one-timed a shot in front off a wall pass from Roque, but goalie Bryan O'Quinn dived to his right to make the reaction save. The Blast had a 10-3 advantage in shots on goal in the first half.
The Silver Knights took their first lead, 4-2, with 8:54 left in the third quarter when Ubiparipovic scored on the power play after Blast forward Adriano Dos Santos was sent off for boarding.
Scoring: 1. Blast, Lookingland, 2 pt., PK, 1:53; 2. Baltimore, Mangione, 2 pt., (Dos Santos), 9:53; 3. Syracuse, Ubiparipovic, 3 pt., 13:00
Penalties: Syracuse, Jelovac, (handling), 1:53; Syracuse, Forbes, (trpping) 7:13; Syracuse, (five-minute bench misconduct), 7:13
Shots: Syracuse 6; Blast 6.
Power-play opportunities: Syracuse 0-for-0; Blast 1-for-2.
Goalie saves: Silver Knights – O'Quinn 3; Blast – Vanzela 0.
A – 3822
Syracuse 2 0 2 5 -- 9
Blast 2 0 0 4 – 6
Scoring: 1. Blast, Roque, 2 pt., (Noone), 6:02; 2. Syracuse, Bourdeau, 2 pt. (Forbes), 10:16.
Scoring: 3. Syracuse, Ubiparipovic, 2 pt., pp. (Forbes), 6:08.
Penalties: Blast, Dos Santos, (boarding), 4:43; Blast , Noone, (holding), 14:12
Scoring: 4. Syracuse, Manfut, 3 pt., (Neto), 6:39; 5. Blast, Donatelli, 2 pt., (Lookingland ), 9:07; 6. Syracuse, Forbes, 2 pt., (Ubiaripovic), 9:53; 7. Blast, Donatelli, 2 pt., (Healey), 13:04.
Penalties: Syracuse, Forbes, (charging) , 1:37
Shots: Syracuse 2-1-9-5 -- 17; Blast 4-6-4-10 --24 .
Power-play opportunities: Syracuse 1-for-2; Blast 0-for-1.
Goalie saves: Silver Knights – O'Quinn 1-4-3-2 -- 10; Blast – Vanzela 1-0-4-1 -- 6.
A – 3822
GK William Vanzela
D Mike Lookingland
D Nelson Santana
M-F Kenardo Forbes
M-F Leo Gibson
M-F Marcio Leite
GK Marcel Feenstra
D Brian Harris
D Bozidar Jelovac
M-F Vahid Assadpour
M-F Ian Bennett
M-F Machel Millwood
GK Scott Krotee
D Chad Vandegriffe
D Tony Walls
M-F Odaine Sinclair
M-F Max Touloute
M-F Diego Zuniga