Blast looks to build on successful first year in MASL

The Blast reached the championship series in its first season in the MASL.

While the March 22 ending to the Major Arena Soccer League championship series was a heartbreaker for the Blast — the Monterrey Flash closed the series with a sudden-death goal in Mexico — there was plenty left for the team to build upon.

After the Blast lost for the first time at Royal Farms Arena in the series opener, it rallied from a 3-1 fourth-quarter deficit in Game 2 to pull out a 6-4 win that sent the series to the deciding 15-minute mini game. A goal from Lucas Roque with two seconds to play forced sudden death.

But, on tired legs, the Blast surrendered a series-deciding goal by Monterrey's Gustavo Rosales.

"It was an unbelievable series, the guys put it all on the line, but we always talk about wanting to win the championship and we didn't reach our goal," Blast general manager Kevin Healey said last week. "So, we're disappointed in that, but certainly not disappointed with the effort from the players and the coaching staff."

After falling to the Missouri Comets in last year's Major Indoor Soccer League championship — that league's final game — the Blast had a rare makeover, adding eight first-year players for the first MASL season.

The team's defense-first approach led to an 18-2 regular season and wins in the Eastern Division and Eastern Conference finals. Defender Pat Healey and goalie William Vanzela anchored the defense, and Tony Donatelli and Roque supplied much of the offense, while rookies like Onua Obasi, Vini Dantas and Jonatas Melo made strong first impressions.

"I think we will be great next year because now the young players have more experience," said Vanzela, who was named the league's top goalkeeper. "The last game — it is the best experience you can have — so every player is going to grow from that. I'm sure we will be the same team next year, but we'll be stronger because we have more experience and know how to play the game better."

Healey anticipates being able to bring back the majority of this year's roster.

"We want to bring back a large majority of our team, but there's always some turnover, some players that move on, some that possibly may retire and things like that," Healey said. "But we expect to bring back the core of our players, while continuing to look for other players that can help."

A league meeting is set for April 24-25 in St. Louis to discuss the future of the MASL. Healey believes the exciting playoffs, particularly the championship series, puts the 22-team league in position to grow.

"Overall we have to continue to help each other," Healey said. "While we're competitive on the field, we're not competitive off the field and it takes us helping each other to build business models to market each community.

"The stronger each franchise gets, the stronger the league gets. The value of the franchises will be driven up if we have more solid business plans and good corporate structure together within the owners."

glenn.graham@baltsun.com

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