The minutes were going by quickly for the Blast in the third quarter of Friday night’s game against the Milwaukee Wave, the home team trailing and in need of something positive.
In past years, the three-time defending Major Arena Soccer League champions would always find somebody to step up with a big goal and send them on the right path.
That didn’t happen Friday.
Instead, the Wave pressed the action and got the first goal of the second half late in the quarter. It provided a two-goal lead — big in the low-scoring game — and the fourth quarter wasn’t any better for the home team.
The Blast peppered the Wave goal with 11 shots in the fourth, but nothing got past goalie Rafael Dias as the home team fell, 5-2, before an announced 2,923 at Towson University’s SECU Arena.
After winning their first 18 games at SECU Arena in the two years they’ve called it home, the Blast have now lost two of their past three games there and have fallen to 9-6 this season. With Utica City FC improving to 12-4 with a win over the Mississauga MetroStars, the Blast are 2½ games back in the Eastern Division.
The Blast, who got 12 saves from goalie William Vanzela, will return to SECU on Sunday looking for redemption against Utica City with game time set for 3 p.m. On Feb. 8, Utica handed the Blast their first home loss since moving to SECU Arena last season, 9-1. At halftime, the Blast will induct Giuliano Celenza and P.J. Wakefield into their Hall of Fame.
Friday was simply not the Blast’s night, which has become an alarming norm this season.
“We’re not playing well right now — that’s the bottom line. We got beat by a better team tonight, and we got to own that and get better,” Blast coach Danny Kelly said.
“We’re deviating from things that we work on at practice that makes us successful, and I think we’re lacking some composure and discipline in our game. So we got to fix it. We’re fighting for a playoff spot, that’s our goal — get into the playoffs and compete for a championship. Right now we have a lot of work to do and it’s on us.”
Trailing 4-2 going into the fourth quarter, the Blast showed a sense of urgency but weren’t rewarded with Dias, who made three saves in the first three quarters, turning back six in the fourth quarter.
The biggest came when Blast captain Tony Donatelli fired a shot from the right side that Dias got his fingertips on to keep out with 10:45 to play.
“I think the effort was there, but we just keep making mistakes and good teams are gong to capitalize on them,” Donatelli said. “We didn’t create enough offensively, I think we were a little stale in our movement and when we did get chances we couldn’t finish.”
Donatelli sees no panic with the Blast, but also no answers.
“I don’t know what it is right now. We can’t [pinpoint] it,” he added. “We got to fight through it. We got to keep grinding,” he said.
“We’ve been through everything over the time I’ve been here — seven years — we’ve seen everything. This is different in terms of the home losses in the regular season, but we have to stick to what we do. Against good teams, we can’t make those mistakes, and right now we haven’t had the guys stepping up and it starts with me and the veteran players. We got to pick our game up because the games are coming quickly and we need to start winning.”
The Blast had a couple leads but neither lasted long.
Defender Elton de Oliveira gave the home team early momentum in the first quarter with a goal off a feed from Juan Pereira for a 1-0 lead. It lasted all of 25 seconds after ex-Blast Max Ferdinand responded with a goal off a set piece from Marcio Leite.
Down a man, the Blast reclaimed the lead in the second quarter on a nifty goal from defender Adriano Dos Santos, who chested a long ball sent in by Mike Deasel before finding the near corner for a 2-1 lead with 8:22 left in the half.
The rest of the quarter belonged to the Wave, who got a tying goal from Ian Bennett with one second left on a power play and then a go-ahead goal from Andre Hayne with 7:45 remaining for a 3-2 advantage at the break.