A return home proved to be the cure for the Blast on Friday night.
With a balanced effort on offense and tidy defense, they ended a two-game slide with a 9-6 win over the Milwaukee Wave before an announced crowd of 3,242 at Towson University’s SECU Arena.
The Blast, who have already clinched the Major Arena Soccer League’s Eastern Division title, improved to 16-4 and are close to clinching the Eastern Conference crown after beating the Central Division-leading Wave, which fell to 15-5. One win will do it and the Blast’s first chance comes Saturday when they close out their home regular-season schedule against the Florida Tropics with game time set for 6:05 p.m. The Blast are now 10-0 on home turf this season.
“Coming in here tonight, big win,” Blast coach Danny Kelly said. “Milwaukee is a great team with a great tradition and we’re battling for supremacy in the league and we want that home-field advantage.
“We talked about one shift at a time, battling for each other and doing what we do. Credit the guys. They worked their butts off tonight and we had some great goals and found a way to win.”
The best of the goals was also the most important, coming from Jonatas Melo with the Blast clinging to a 6-4 lead early in the fourth quarter. He found Vini Dantas on the right side and headed straight to goal, getting the return pass in stride and burying his chance. The Blast made it 8-4 on a goal from Daniel Peruzzi before surrendering two late goals with the Wave employing an extra attacker. Melo and Jereme Raley had key clears before Juan Pereira scored on an empty net with 49 seconds left to secure the win.
Eight players scored goals for the home team — Melo leading the way with two — while four others had assists. The defense mostly contained the Wave’s dynamic one-two punch of Ian Bennett and former Blast player Max Ferdinand. The pair went into the game with a combined 96 points, including 57 goals, and were held to a combined two goals and two assists with half the production coming in the closing minutes.
“Tonight, we had a lot of players scoring and working hard,” Melo said. “That’s the Blast — everybody giving their best and that’s why we’ve been so successful over the years.”
The Blast opened with one of their finest quarters of the season to take a 3-0 lead going into the second.
They set a positive tone early when Elton de Oliveira scored three minutes into the game and then added to the lead when Melo made it 2-0 with 8:57 left.
The home team’s defense did its part with the Wave trailing and playing with more urgency. The Blast were quick to cut off passing lanes and got in front of a number of shots in addition to goalkeeper Joey Kapinos (11 saves overall) turning away three of the eight Wave shots.
A nifty connection in tight quarters put the Blast up 3-0 with 1:11 to play in the quarter. Andrew Hoxie, stationed at the top with his back to the goal, chested a ball to his left for a streaking Jamie Thomas, who one-timed a chance in the opposite quarter.
The Blast would never trail in the game with the Wave cutting the lead to 3-2 at the half, but the Wave never got closer than within two in the second half.
Saturday’s game is Fan Appreciation Night with the first 2,000 in attendance receiving a team photo, and all players will sign autographs after the game.
In addition, former standout goalkeeper Sagu, who spent eight seasons in Baltimore and was part of three championship teams, wil be inducted into the franchise’s Hall of Fame during a halftime ceremony. The Blast will complete the regular season at Syracuse on March 4.