On Friday night Baltimore/Sonora II kicked off at Royal Farms Arena.  The Blast and Soles will finish off the series Sunday in Hermosillo.

Sonora won Game 1, 4-2 after dropping the opener of the Ron Newman Cup Finals 7-4 last year.  Baltimore won the Newman Cup in a 2-0 sweep last year, taking the clincher 14-13 in overtime on the road.

All of the intriguing aspects from last year are still there: US vs. Mexico, East (MISL) vs. West (PASL), top scoring Sonora vs. top defending Baltimore, MVP Franck Tayou vs. Goalkeeper of the Year William Vanzela. Add in the history from last year and you have a dynamic matchup.

Game 1 didn’t disappoint, a tense defensive affair sprinkled with heroic blocks, deft goalkeeping, shots ringing off the posts, and the occasional shoving match.

Sonora got on the board first when Hiram “Pollo” Ruiz sprung Enrique Canez with a long outlet pass and Canez sliced it by a helpless Vanzela for a 1-0 lead at 3:24 of the first quarter.  The high flying Soles almost struck again about 30 seconds later but Tayou’s breakaway Blast  hit Vanzela square in the chest.

Despite a healthy advantage in shots and possession, the Soles went into halftime clinging to a tentative 1-0 lead and would begin the second half shorthanded because Raymundo Contreras picked up his 4th foul of the half with just 11 seconds remaining.

The Blast capitalized on the power play 31 seconds into the third quarter with tic-tac-toe passing that ended with a Andrew Hoxie tap in at the back post.

Sonora didn’t let the momentum swing fully to Baltimore.  Daniel Lopez knifed through the box to score at 5:03, giving Sonora the lead, which they never relinquished. Lopez missed last year’s Finals after breaking his leg in the Conference Finals against Las Vegas.

A botched pass back to Vanzela was intercepted by Lopez, who shot high over the goal and Erick Rosas buried the rebound to put the Soles up 3-1 at the 8:30 mark.  Late in the quarter Vanzela made a strong save on a Canez rocket but the rebound fell to a crashing Ruiz who headed it in to grow the lead to 4-1.

The Blast were down three goals in Game 1 of the Conference Finals, but rallied from a 6-3 deficit to defeat Milwaukee 8-7 in overtime.  Even at 4-1 you would be excused for thinking the Blast were employing a rope-a-dope strategy to wear out Sonora on Baltimore’s big field.

Sonora never wore out. Adriano Dos Santos’s goal at 4:11 of the fourth quarter gave the Blast life, but goalkeeper Diego Reynoso, his friend, the post, and the Soles defense held firm.

Tayou picked up his third foul in the third quarter and sat out most, if not all of the fourth with Alejandro Leyva picking up extra shifts.  Tayou’s 4-foul penalty with 14 seconds left in Game 2 last year gave the Blast the power play that led to the game-winning goal early in overtime.

Ruiz and Gustavo Rosales in particular gave the Blast fits and buzzed all over the field. Reynoso made several difficult saves and controlled his rebounds with the exception of the Dos Santos goal.

Sonora leads the best of three series 1-0 and returns to Centro de Usos Multiples where they have won 12 straight games.  Their last home loss, however, was to Baltimore and the Blast always seem to manage to escape to fight another day.  If they can grab Game 2, the two teams will play a mini-game Game 3 immediately after its conclusion.

Notes: Rosales and Reynoso are playing their third straight Finals against Baltimore, after the two were part of the 2014/15 champion Monterrey Flash.  Rosas was on Monterrey’s roster that year as well, but did not appear in any games.