A six month season came down to a single goal.
Behind the powerful left foot of forward Machel Millwood, who scored 6:33 into the decisive golden goal session, the Baltimore Blast completed their upset of the regular season champion St. Louis Steamers to win the Major Indoor Soccer League Championship Series before a crowd of 16,061 at Savvis Center in St. Louis and a national television audience watching live on ESPN2 on Sunday afternoon.
Baltimore which entered the series as the No. 3 seed and had finished the regular season with a 17-13 record, rallied in the last two weeks to first win a series against the 2005 MISL Champion Milwaukee Wave, and on Sunday, to win the 2006 MISL Championship Series Finals over the favored Steamers, who completed the regular season with a record of 23-7 and a six-game lead in the MISL standings.
The Blast had taken a one-game lead in the Finals with a 4-2 win at 1st Mariner Arena on Friday night. Then on Sunday at Savvis the Steamers won 4-1 in regulation, evening the series at 1, which resulted in the tie-breaking golden goal session.
Much like he did to break the tie against Milwaukee last Sunday in the Championship Series semifinals, Millwood starred again for the Blast, this time receiving a ball from MISL leading goal scorer Giuliano Celenza out of the corner. With little hesitation, Millwood went near post and high past the outstretched right arm of St. Louis All-Star goalkeeper Brett Phillips.
“We just wanted to work hard and wait for our breaks,” said Millwood, who was named the MISL Championship Series Most Valuable Player by the media. “Anything can happen in the golden goal.”
Although both teams averaged better than six goals per game in the regular season and in the semifinal round of the Championship Series, neither was able to break through offensively in the closely played Finals. However, much like Baltimore had in Game One, St. Louis dominated play on its home field in Game Two. Steamers captain Jeff DiMaria gave the Steamers a 1-0 lead in the first quarter (6:37), beating Blast reserve goalkeeper Sanaldo, who again started in place of veteran Sagu, who remained sidelined with a calf injury suffered on Wednesday.
Phillips posted a first half shutout for St. Louis, which had a 19-6 shots-on-goal advantage in the first half.
In the third quarter, the Steamers added to their lead. The team’s pair of talented, lightning quick forwards, Shaun David and Jamar Beasley – both 2006 MISL All-Stars – scored in the third quarter. David received an outlet from Phillips that he pushed past the control of Sanaldo for a goal at 1:50 of the third. Beasley was the beneficiary of a pass from Genoni Martinez on a shootout attempt, in which he beat Lee Tschantret, Baltimore’s versatile veteran who was occupying the goalkeeper position with Sanaldo in the penalty box as a result of a tripping infraction at the 6:21 mark.
Baltimore got on the board when player/coach Danny Kelly scored off an assist from Adauto Neto, the MISL’s second leading scorer, at 13:40 of the third quarter.
St. Louis quickly pushed its advantage back to three goals (4-1) with a Martinez score off the assist from midfielder Mariano Bollella at 14:42 of the third.
The fourth quarter was scoreless as Baltimore was unable to mount a comeback, even with the use of Tschantret as a sixth attacker.
“Once it was 4-1, most of us decided to focus on the golden goal,” Baltimore midfielder Robbie Aristodemo said. “When it was 3-1, we thought we could come back with the sixth attacker. But once it was 4-1, it was going to be tough. We knew that they had come out so fast and so aggressive in the first quarter, and with the great crowd they had, I don’t know if they were getting tired or not. We just knew that we were in the same position against Milwaukee, and we were trying to stay in the game and get it to (the ‘golden goal.’)”
After a five minute break, the teams resumed action with fouls reset in what amounted to a “sudden victory” game three. St. Louis, which had improved to 16-1 at Savvis this season with the win in game two, had shots by Martinez, Beasley and defender D.J. Newsom in the extra session, however three Baltimore blocks thwarted any save attempts for Sanaldo. At the other end, it was the Blast’s second shot in 6:33 of play that resulted in the Championship winner. Where neither goalkeeper had a save in the golden goal, Sanaldo stopped 18 of 21 in game two, and Phillips saved 13 of 14.
“In both game one and game two, the home team clearly had the advantage,” said Tarik Walker, Baltimore’s assistant coach and lead man on the bench with Kelly spending much of his time on the field on Sunday. “We started to find some legs in the last part of the fourth quarter of game two. Obviously some things have to go your way in the ‘golden goal.’ But the guys stuck together. They got behind Sanaldo. And Millwood has always had a light switch in his body that he can turn on. Obviously he did that with the final goal.”
The Baltimore Blast won back-to-back MISL Championship Series titles in 2003 and 2004.
MISL to Expand Into Three New Markets
The Major Indoor Soccer League announced Sunday that a yet-to-be-named franchise in Orlando had been approved to begin competition in the 2007-2008 season. In May of 2004, the League announced plans for an expansion team in Newark, NJ, that will begin play in 2007-08. In April 2005, the league also approved an MISL expansion team for Detroit that will begin play as the Detroit Ignition in 2006-07.