Many of the names changed for the Blast this season — seven rookies and two other newcomers came aboard — but the team's philosophy stayed the same.
So did the results.
Competing in the new 23-team Major Arena Soccer League, the Blast steamrolled the Eastern Division and comes into the postseason with an 18-2 record that has it in position to claim the franchise's eighth championship.
The Blast opens its quest on Wednesday when it hosts the Rochester Lancers in the Eastern Division final.Game time is set for 7:05 p.m. with the winner advancing to the Eastern Conference final.
"It's funny how the season goes," Blast first-year captain and veteran defender Pat Healey said. "At the very beginning, everyone was talking about who we were losing and how we have this brand new team. And then throughout the season, we just plugged along and tried to implement the same things we do every year. The young guys really developed and the leaders of the team stepped up."
The early talk was about replacing the likes of defender Mike Lookingland, who retired after being named the Major Indoor Soccer League's Defender of the Year last season.
Now the talk is about the fast development of rookies Onua Obasi, Vini Dantas and Jonatas Melos, among others, and how the veteran players stepped into bigger roles and helped mentor those younger players.
With the same defense-first approach led by third-year goalie William Vanzela and sturdy play from Healey — both were All-MASL first-team selections — and a balanced offense led by Tony Donatelli and Lucas Roque, the Blast hasn't missed a beat as it prepares for Rochester, which the Blast went 4-0 against in the regular season.
"I think our mentality is a huge part of it," Blast coach Danny Kelly said."We know if we play our game we can beat anybody, so we always talk about the attention to detail. … All in all, it's going to take a supreme effort from everybody [to win the championship] and when you have William Vanzela in goal, anything is possible.I think we have a quality team.Can our inexperienced players rise to the occasion when everything is on the line? I think that's going to be the key for us."
Anticipating the roster changes, Kelly and Blast general manager Kevin Healey spent hours scouting and relied relying on their network to find players to fit into the organization's system.
Donatelli, who has a team-high 35 points in his third season, recommended Dantas, who impressed in his tryout and was quickly signed. Dantas, a forward, and Obasi, a defender, were named to the MASL's All-Rookie Team.
"We always expect to compete for the championship and we had confidence that we could bring some players in to help us get to that point," Kevin Healey said."There was some concern going into the year that we lost so many defenders — really good players for us and good for our franchise. But we work diligently to make sure we bring in the right players. ... Our players want to win, so when new players come in they're showing them how we go about doing things."