Having a division foe at Royal Farms Arena was a welcome sight for the Blast on Friday night.
After consecutive losses on the West Coast last weekend that ended its 13-game winning streak in the Major Arena Soccer League, the Blast got back on track with a thorough 11-0 win over the Rochester Lancers before an announced 6,761.
"It was a great effort, especially coming off two performances where I think we were all disappointed in the results," Blast coach Danny Kelly said. "I don't think we played poorly out west. I just think we didn't play our best. … So tonight was a big game, and we always know Rochester is up to play us, and they know they have to beat us to get to where they want to get to, so I knew it was going to be a tough game."
Goalkeeper William Vanzela finished with 12 saves and now has shutout wins against three Eastern Division opponents this season.
Tony Donatelli had two goals and an assist, Max Ferdinand scored twice, and Diego Zuniga converted a pivotal 3-point goal early in the second half to pave the way.
The Blast, which clinched the division before last weekend's losses to the Las Vegas Legends and San Diego Sockers, improved to 14-2 with four regular-season games remaining. The team is now 11-0 against division opponents and has outscored them by a combined 117-18 over six home wins.
In beating Rochester for a third time this season, the Blast was first to the ball from the start, controlling play and building a 7-0 halftime advantage that would have been larger if not for the fine play of Rochester goalie Joe Kapinos. The Blast peppered the Lancers' goal in the first half, with Kapinos turning away 10 of 18 shots.
Those that got past Kapinos were well earned. Donatelli started the scoring with a left-footed strike, off an assist from Onua Obasi, for a 2-0 lead 5:39 into play. More pressure came from the Blast early in the second quarter, and Diego Zuniga scored a 3-point goal from the right side to push the lead to five with 13:25 left in the half.
Good ball movement on the power play led to a goal by Ferdinand and a 7-0 lead with 21 seconds to play. Lucas Roque sent a pass to the left corner for Donatelli, who quickly sent the ball across to Ferdinand for a successful deflection. Ferdinand and Donatelli both scored their second goals in the third quarter, further cementing the Blast's advantage.
Vanzela was sharp when called on, his best effort coming late in the third quarter: a kick save on a heavy shot from Mauricio Salles that was headed for the lower corner of the goal.
"It was just a tremendous job all over the place, from blocking shots, William coming up with saves when we needed them, and offensively, creating chances and putting the ball in the back of the net," Kelly said.
On Friday, the MASL announced that the top three teams in each of the league's four divisions would qualify for the postseason. The second- and third-place teams in the Eastern Division — currently the Syracuse Silver Knights and the Lancers, respectively — will meet in a home-and-home series in early March. The winner will advance to face the Blast in a one-game divisional final set for March 11 or March 13 in Baltimore.
The winner goes on to meet the Central Division winner in the Eastern Conference final, while the Southern and Pacific Division winners meet in the Western Conference final. The two conference champions will meet for the league crown.