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With 8-7 win, Blast make debut at Towson's SECU Arena an exciting success

Goalie William Vanzela didn’t have to sprint as far as he once did to greet his teammates when celebrating each of the Blast’s goals Friday, when they made their home debut at Towson University’s SECU Arena a success.

There were eight goals in all, every last one needed, and none more exciting than Lucas Roque’s bicycle-kick score in the fourth quarter.

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That had the packed announced crowd of 3,733 — less than a hundred short of capacity — at its noisiest. Vanzela’s save with a little more than a minute left was a close second as the Blast claimed an exciting 8-7 win over the Cedar Rapids Rampage.

Considerably smaller than the Blast’s longtime home, Royal Farms Arena, SECU Arena featured more end-to-end action and the norm for the two-time defending Major Arena Soccer League champions: a home win.

Vini Dantas finished with two goals and two assists, and Vanzela had 11 saves. The Blast (1-0) and their intimate new home got solid reviews.

Michelle Hagan was taking in the game with her husband, children and a family friend, and they were enjoying every minute. Just leaving a souvenir stand at halftime, the Dundalk resident said the prices were friendlier and the environment was livelier than at Royal Farms Arena.

“We love the Blast and love the new arena, and we’re hoping to come a couple more times this year,” said Hagan, who was sporting a Lucas Roque T-shirt covered with Blast signatures. “The action is great. It’s a little scary when the ball is flying — it’s, like, right on you — but the kids are happy and we’re all jumping around, giving high-fives to everyone.”

The final high-fives didn’t come until the final whistle, as the Rampage scored with 1:51 left to cut the Blast’s lead to 8-7. After Vanzela made a reaction save on a heavy shot from Derek Huffman with 1:14 left, the visitors had one final chance with a free kick awarded with 3.7 seconds to play. The Blast defended it well, and Rampage forward Tony Walls was unable to get a shot off before time expired.

Dantas said that despite the team’s new home and having to adjust their style to the tighter quarters, the Blast are still the Blast. They were still able to use the width of the field to possess the ball, and there was plenty of room in the offensive end to create.

“It was really fun,” he added. “Even though there’s less fans [than Royal Farms Arena], it’s a lot more intimate and feels a lot more crowded. It’s something to look up and see all those faces — loved it.”

Blast season-ticket holder Joe Broglie, a Pasadena resident, was impressed with the arena but had some concerns.

His commute took more than an hour and, as opposed to walking down a few levels in the Royal Farms Arena garage to get to his seats, he had a 10-minute walk from the parking lot at SECU Arena. Both the commute and long walk could be a hassle when winter arrives.

As for the action, he saw plenty.

“It’s a lot more fast-paced,” said Broglie, who has been a Blast regular for a decade. “I’m used to the dimensions at the arena, so the width is OK, but the length seems a little too small. I’ve personally played at [Coppermine] Du Burns [Arena] and Myers Pavilion, and I sat down with my dad tonight and said: ‘It’s like playing at Du Burns and Myers.’ ”

Blast captain Tony Donatelli said SECU Arena was considerably louder, as expected, and the action faster.

“It’s shorter, but it’s not much different,” he said. “Once you get in the defensive or offensive third, there’s a lot of space. It’s just in the middle of the field where you have to make quick decisions on the ball.”

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The game was tight throughout until Roque and Pereira scored consecutive goals to provide the Blast with their biggest lead, 8-5, with five minutes left before two late Rampage goals made for the exciting ending.

“It was loud,” said Blast defender Pat Healey, who finished with two assists. “We know there’s going to be a feeling-out process these first couple games, and that comes with playing more and more here. Early in the fourth quarter, we had a little run and the crowd was into it. You could feel it — this will be a place we’ll feel really comfortable in.”

The Blast return to SECU Arena on Friday night to take on the Eastern Division rival Syracuse Silver Knights.

Friday’s opener followed much the same routine as past years’ at Royal Farms Arena, starting with the pregame “Parade of Champions,” featuring youth soccer groups circling the field. Many Blast players came out to the field with kids by their side.

After two elementary-school choirs sang “God Bless America” and the national anthem, the 2016-17 MASL championship banner was unveiled, with the Blast cheerleaders leading the applause.

After the public-address announcer urged the crowd with his familiar plea — “It’s time to make some noise!” — the Blast’s new era began with Blast midfielder Juan Pereira scoring the first goal at SECU Arena with 7:33 to play in the first quarter.

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