Blast rookie defender Elton de Oliveira only had one goal this season coming into Friday's game against the Syracuse Silver Knights.
In a three-minute stretch, he scored twice as many.
The two goals were nifty and precise — the first a rocket from the right side late in the second quarter and the second neatly placed from the middle coming 32 seconds into the third quarter. More importantly, they were pivotal in helping the defending Major Arena Soccer League champions shake off the visiting Silver Knights, 8-4, to clinch a playoff berth before an announced crowd of 6,131 at Royal Farms Arena.
The Blast, first in the MASL's Eastern Division with an 11-5 mark, moved 3 1/2 games in front of the second-place Harrisburg Heat (8-9), who lost Friday night's road game, 12-4, to the Kansas City Comets. If the Blast beat the Silver Knights (6-11 and last in the division) a second time this weekend — the teams return to Royal Farms Arena at 4:05 p.m. Sunday — they will lock up the division title with three games left in the regular season.
"Usually [the opposing team's] targets don't follow us [defenders], so it's a big opportunity. And when the coach says make the runs, I was happy [to score] and have the big night," de Oliveira said.
In addition to de Oliveira's offensive outburst — he later added an assist — the Blast got a two-goal, three-assist effort from leading scorer Tony Donatelli, who now has 18 goals and 19 assists this season. Vini Dantas added two goals and Lucas Roque pitched in with one goal and an assist. Blast goalie William Vanzela finished with 10 saves.
"I thought it was a good overall performance," Blast coach Danny Kelly said. "We've been preaching consistency and it wasn't an ideal time for us to have a bye week after the important win against Milwaukee when I thought we played very well. So I was a bit concerned about having the week off. But we had two good weeks of training and we know how important these games are now.
"… We had to come into the mindset that from here on out these are playoff games, and that was the focus going into tonight. We hadn't gotten the playoff spot secured until we got the result tonight, so we were a focused group and I thought we played pretty well."
For most of the first half, the Silver Knights didn't look like a last-place team as the Blast only mustered a 2-1 lead late into the second quarter.
That's when de Oliveira went to work, making it 3-1 with the only goal of the second quarter, 2:14 before halftime. In the opening minute of the third quarter, he took a pass from Donatelli and went straight to the goal, finding the left corner to make it 4-1. The Blast went on to score three more goals in the third quarter to take charge.
Kelly saw signs in training that de Oliveira was primed for a breakout game.
"This week and especially [Thursday] in training, we were working on set plays and he made little tweaks to his fundamentals about getting balls on target and you saw that tonight," Kelly said. "He played extremely well and it's something we've been expecting. We know when these guys come in as rookies you can see their talent and ability, but it takes them time to pick up the game. I thought tonight you saw things click for Elton and he did really well."
Things started out well for the home team with a high-energy opening goal coming five minutes into play. Donatelli stayed with a ball in the right corner and was able to get the ball in front for Dantas, who buried a half volley.
But the Silver Knights had their chances — they had 11 first-quarter shots with Blast defenders getting in front of eight of them — and the visitors were able to break through when Slavisa Ubiparipovic (three goals, one assist) found the top left corner to tie the game at 1 with 1:49 to play.
The Blast were quick to answer with Donatelli finishing off a shootout goal 10 seconds later after Syracuse goalie Bryan O'Quinn was called for a hand-ball violation. Late in the second quarter, de Oliveira provided the two-goal cushion at the break.
Syracuse 1 0 1 2 -- 4
Blast 2 1 4 1 -- 8
Scoring: 1. Blast, Dantas, (Donatelli), 4:145; 2. Syracuse, Ubiparipovic, (Gonzalez), 13:11; 3. Blast, Donateilli, pp., 13:21
Penalties: Syraucse, O'Quinn (handling), 13:18.
Scoring: 4. Blast, de Oliveira, 12:46
Scoring: 5. Blast, de Oliveira, (Donatelli), :26; 6. Blast, Dantas, (Healey), 3:55; 7. Syracuse, Ubiparipovic, (Tavernese), pp., 7:57; 8. Blast, Roque, (Donatelli), 11:28; 9. Blast, Hoxie, (de Oliveira), 14:15
Penalties: Blast, Pereira, (boardiing), 6:20.
Scoring: 10. Blast, Donatelli, (Roque), 7:16; 11. Syracuse, Schindler, (Ubiparipovic), 9:49; 12. Syracuse, Ubiparipovic, 11:58
Penalties: Blast, Dos Santos, (handling), 11:58.
Shots: Syracuse 11-3-7-6 -- 27; Blast 3-7-5-7 -- 22.
Power play opportunities: Syracuse 2-for-2; Blast 1-for-1.
Goalie saves: Syracuse, O'Quinn 2-2-0-3 -- 7; Blast, Vanzela 2-2-4-2 -- 10.
A – 6,131