One minute, it looked like the Blast was poised to successfully defend its Major Indoor Soccer League championship Sunday.
The next — the players' heads were down and the team's season was shockingly over.
The Missouri Comets celebrated their first MISL championship in a rematch of last year's title series, claiming a thrilling 6-4 win in the decisive 15-minute mini game that the Blast appeared to have control of in front of an announced crowd of 6,447 at Baltimore Arena.
After the Blast tied the series with a convincing 19-4 win in the second game earlier in the night, veteran Adauto Neto (three goals, one assist in Game 2) added to his special day with a tie-breaking goal that left the home team only 2:49 away from another championship.
But the Comets, the league's highest-scoring team — who were held scoreless for the first 42 minutes in the second game — scored two goals in 40 seconds. The championship-winning goal came from playoff Most Valuable Player Brian Harris with 54 seconds left. The Blast had one quality scoring chance in the final minute, but Mike Lookingland missed his 3-point try from the left side high and wide with 28 seconds left.
The Blast, which has won six league championships since the 2002-03 season, saw a chance to win its seventh title disappointingly slip away.
"It's really hard, especially when you work hard as a team and give it all you got," Neto said. "We had an opportunity to win at the end, but we gave up two good goals, and that's part of soccer. They're a great team, and they also played well, and it was just not for us this time."
With so much on the line with so little time in the 15-minute mini game, the intensity is cranked up and the first goal is a major breakthrough.
The Blast got it when Max Ferdinand finished off a chance from the left side for a 2-0 lead with 6:32 left. But Missouri, which opened the series with a 15-8 home win Friday, came back to tie less than one minute later with a goal from Lucas Rodriguez.
It appeared to set up the perfect ending for the home team when Neto nimbly got past a defender to gain space and place a perfect shot to the corner to retake the lead. The veteran raced down the left side of the field in celebration with the rowdy crowd equally elated.
But the celebration proved short lived. With an extra attacker on for the Comets, Stefan St. Louis — stationed in front of the goal — redirected a shot sent in from Rodriguez to bring them back a second time. From there, Harris was the hero.
"It's a tough way to lose," Blast coach Danny Kelly said. "Obviuously, we played extremely well in the second game. You never think you have it in the bag, but I thought we were playing well enough to win [the third game] and got up 2-0 and 4-2. I can't really fault our guys for anything, a ball off a guy's hip goes in to tie it up at 4, and then they made a play to finish it out."
The Blast wasted no time assuring the deciding mini game would be needed with a dominating performance in the second game to tie the series.
The home team relentlessly attacked the Comets from the start and didn't let up.
Marco Mangione ripped a shot from the right side that found the top near post for a 2-0 lead only 1:30 into play that set the tone for the game. After Mike Deasel was credited with a two-point goal when his pass in front deflected off a Comets defender with 4:15 to play in the first quarter to make it 4-0, the Blast took control with seven unanswered points in the second quarter for an 11-0 halftime lead.
Neto hit a 3-pointer that again was put in by Missouri's defense, and then Ferdinand and Tony Donatelli added two-point goals for the decisive edge. The Blast peppered 16 shots at the Comets goal in the first 30 minutes, while William Vanzela turned away all five shots that came his way.
Neto completed the hat trick with a diving header in front off a feed from J.T. Noone early in the fourth quarter.
"Every year, our goal is the same to win a championship, and we came up short," Kelly said. "I thought we had a great run, a great season. It's difficult to repeat, get back to this point, but we got back here and came [darn] close to winning it again, so we'll be back.