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With two top scorers injured, Blast still where they 'expect to be' in MASL

The Blast spent New Year’s Eve in frigid Cedar Rapids, Iowa, with weary legs, having played their second road game in less than a day.

On New Year’s Day, they arrived at the airport in Cedar Rapids at 5 a.m., but with delays and missed connections in Charlotte, N.C., didn’t get back to Baltimore until after 10 p.m.

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But it was all good: The Blast came home with two wins playing without their two top scorers — against the Kansas City Comets and then Cedar Rapids — and held a team dinner to start 2018.

“[It brought] the team together a lot — a special time. We fought hard for each other and then everybody was happy, everybody was celebrating and everybody was together,” said midfielder Lucas Roque, who had three goals and two assists over the weekend to help offset the loss of injured standouts Tony Donatelli and Vini Dantas.

The two-time defending Major Arena Soccer League champions are 8-2, in their usual spot atop the Eastern Division, and enter the 2018 portion of the schedule feeling very good about themselves.

On Saturday, the Blast will try to keep rolling when the rival Harrisburg Heat come to SECU Arena at 6:05 p.m. The Blast have won six of their past seven games, suffering a 6-5 shootout loss at Harrisburg on Dec. 16.

Blast goalie William Vanzela, who had 21 saves in the two wins over the weekend, likes the team’s direction.

“I think we’re getting better and better and, so far, we’re where we expect to be,” he said. “We made some mistakes at the beginning of the season, but if you look at our results [recently] and how we’ve been playing, it’s a lot better from the start, so it keeps me happy and promising for the second half of the season.”

At this time last season, the Blast was 7-3 and were dealing with more significant injuries going into the second half of the season. Donatelli (groin), Dantas (hamstring) and standout defender Pat Healey (hamstring) are all close to returning.

The team’s championship core is thriving, the newcomers are finding their way and its philosophy remains the same: Defense is the priority with the offense spread out. Donatelli (12 goals, nine assists, 21 points) leads five players with 10 or more points and Vanzela is once again one of the league-leading goalkeepers with a 4.34 goals against average.

“It’s going to be hard to beat us and everybody knows that,” Roque said. “Wherever we go play, they always talk about us. They always say how well we defend, how we’re good as a team. We don’t have just one player that stands out, it’s always the group.”

The Blast go into Saturday’s game with a two-game lead over the Florida Tropics (6-4). The Heat (4-7) have lost six of their past seven to fall into last place in the Eastern Division.

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