Baltimore Blast forward Juan Pereira jumps on teammate Vini Dantas after Dantas scored the team's fourth goal as the Blast took on the Milwaukee Wave in the eastern conference final.
Baltimore Blast forward Juan Pereira jumps on teammate Vini Dantas after Dantas scored the team's fourth goal as the Blast took on the Milwaukee Wave in the eastern conference final. (Barbara Haddock Taylor / Baltimore Sun)

When Blast veteran defender Jonathan Greenfield returned for his second stint with the team in early February – he last played for Baltimore in the 2009-10 season – he was mostly greeted by new teammates.

What didn’t change was at the top with owner Ed Hale Sr., general manager and president Kevin Healey, and head coach Danny Kelly still in place and showing the same competitive fire to win.

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On Sunday, the Blast will be in Monterrey to face the Flash in a bid to bring home their third straight Major Arena Soccer League championship. Game time is set for 7:05 p.m. and will be broadcast on MASLtv.

From afar, Greenfield was impressed with the Blast’s consistent success – the team has reached the championship every season since his departure – and he doesn’t hesitate when asked what has been the starting point to the strong foundation.

It’s Hale’s passion for his team. Healey’s eye for talent. And Kelly’s ability to get the most of his players.

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“I think between all three of them, they have the same mindset where winning is everything. It’s championship or bust and the ultimate goal is to always win,” said Greenfield, who played with the Milwaukee Wave and Cedar Rapids Rampage in between his stints in Baltimore. “So I think all three of these people in charge are so influential in the success of what the Blast is in general. And then, obviously, it trickles down to the players and having the ability to buy into Danny Kelly and playing within the system.”

Overall, Baltimore is seeking its 10th professional indoor soccer championship, and the current Blast have won eight in the past 15 years, including one in Greenfield’s rookie year of 2008-09.

Hale, who was the owner of the original Blast of the first Major Indoor Soccer League from 1988 to 1992, bought the franchise a second time in 1998. Healey was on board and Kelly was brought in as a player and then became head coach in 2006.

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Between the three of them, they have an open-door policy to maximize the franchise’s success. With help from Kelly, Healey identifies players who fit in. They want players who are hardworking, highly skilled and good characters on and off the field.

They don’t just look at highlight tape of a given player, but entire game tape. They want to see how a player responds when things aren’t going well.

The Blast have a core group of experienced leaders – forward Tony Donatelli, goalkeeper William Vanzela, and defenders Pat Healey are Adriano Dos Santos are the team’s senior members – and they help Kelly and assistant coach David Bascome show the way for the younger players.

“David and I demand a lot from our team – there’s no shortcuts,” Kelly said. “And I don’t care if you’re a rookie or a 10-year vet, they have to respect what we have here. Part of the job is myself and David holding everybody accountable for doing their job on the field and the other part of it is them holding each other accountable. That’s a huge part of it. You have to have accountability, just like I’m accountable to Ed Hale for results.”

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With the strong top-to-bottom bond in place, the Blast have shown an ability to thrive. They fall behind in the playoffs and rally. They get injuries and others step up.

This season, Vanzela went down with a serious groin injury early in a game against the Kansas City Comets on Jan. 19. Without a signed backup goalie, Healey was immediately on the phone since the team had a game the next day. Veteran Joey Kapinos was signed, and the Blast went 6-3 for the remainder of the regular season and then won both games in the opening playoff series against the Syracuse Silver Knights. Vanzela returned only when he was 100 percent ready – showing it in a full week of training – and then shined in the Blast’s 10-6 win over the Milwaukee Wave for the Eastern Conference title.

Monterrey earned the home field by owning the league’s best record at 20-2 – including a 10-1 home mark -- and the Blast will have their share of adversity in trying to repeat as champions. But they believe they’re fully equipped to handle anything that comes their way.

“When things aren’t going your way, how do you respond?” said Kelly. “We try for composure and discipline, and problem-solve on the fly and never give up in trying to find a way. It doesn’t mean you’re always going to win, but you can’t be afraid to fail.”

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