Although the Blast already has clinched the Major Arena Soccer League's Eastern Division, coach Danny Kelly is determined to make sure his players stay sharp over the final games of the regular season. He wants the team clicking when the playoffs begin next month.
Friday night was a good start. The Blast were dominant throughout a 24-0 win over the playoff-bound Chicago Mustangs (10-8) before an announced 6,642 at Royal Farms Arena. Lucas Roque had a hat trick for the Blast, which improved to 15-2 with three regular-season games remaining.
It was the Blast's fourth shutout of the season. Vini Dantas, Adauto Neto and Tony Donatelli had two goals apiece.
“It doesn't matter what your record is going into the playoffs. It's how you are performing at the time,” Kelly said. “For us, it's very important to keep that mentality and keep the foot on the pedal. We have to keep playing like every game is a playoff game. We're trying to prepare ourselves for the playoffs. Out mindset is very critical.”
The Blast took control early, going up 4-0 in the first five minutes on goals by Jonatas Melo and Onua Obasi. Diego Zuniga pushed the lead to 6-0 with 5:08 left in the first quarter, forcing Chicago to call its second timeout.
It didn't help. The Blast continued to pound Mustangs goalkeeper Jesus Flores with shots, and Neto scored on a nifty backheel flick to increase the margin to 8-0 with 11:33 remaining in the second quarter.
William Vanzela, who has established himself as the top goalie in the league, came up with several acrobatic saves to keep Chicago scoreless. The Blast outshot Chicago 15-7 in the first half.
The Blast continued to pull away in third quarter as Roque, Donatelli and Neto each scored 2-point goals. Donatelli scored again in the closing seconds of the period, his team-leading 18th of the season.
Roque and Dantas added fourth-quarter goals.
“We have to go to the playoffs with the momentum,” Roque said. “As many wins as we have and as many shutouts as we have, it won't mean anything if we go to the playoffs and lose.”
The Blast finishes its weekend home schedule Saturday against Harrisburg, then faces the Heat in a road rematch next Friday before traveling to Rochester to close out the regular season against the Lancers. The Blast will host a playoff game in the second week of March against the winner of Rochester and the Syracuse Silver Knights' first-round matchup.
Note: Former defender Lance Johnson will be inducted into the Baltimore Blast Hall of Fame at a date to be announced. Johnson, who joined the team in 1993, is its all-time leader in games and blocked shots, and is 13th in scoring. The four-time All-Star had 105 goals and 68 assists in 372 games, and served as captain from 1996 until his retirement at the end of the 2002-03 Major Indoor Soccer League championship season. Johnson lives in Baltimore.