International arena soccer made its debut at SECU Arena Saturday night as the three-time defending MASL champion Baltimore Blast hosted the Canadian National Arena Soccer Team in a summer exhibition game that was anything but friendly.
After some big hits and near fisticuffs the Blast rallied from a late 7-6 deficit to win 8-7 and remain undefeated at their newest home arena.
The Blast were mainly at full strength with the notable exceptions of William Vanzela and Lucas Roque, while Canada was without Joshua Lemos and Ian Bennett.
Canada seemed overmatched in the first half and fell into a 4-0 hole early in the second quarter. That score may have been a little deceptive because the Canadians had two major scoring opportunities, but just couldn’t put the ball past Joey Kapinos and the shot-blocking Baltimore defense.
“We had a lot of opportunities in the first half that we didn’t capitalize on and that changed in the second half,” said Canada Head Coach Giuliano Oliviero.
Canada did get on the board at 2:41 of the second quarter on a brilliant upper 90 rocket by Lehrohne Young from just outside the yellow line, but Jonatas Melo put the Blast back up by four with 4:59 to go in the half. Young scored again, followed by a Sandro Rajkovic goal a minute later and Canada went into the locker room trailing 5-3 at the half.
In the third quarter, the Blast seemed to rebuild a safe lead when Joey Kapinos rolled a quick pass to Elton De Oliviera who turned, took a few steps and shot a low laser past 17-year old Toronto FC Academy goalie Sebastian Zeballos to make it 6-3.
Canada got their only goal of the quarter when Freddy Moojen, making his arena national team debut, scored on a one-timer to cut the deficit to 6-4.
“This is a great group of guys,” said Moojen. “You don’t see that very often. I’ve been playing this game for 11 years so it’s very pleasant to be here with them and I’m very happy and fortunate to be able to represent Canada.”
In the fourth quarter, 23-year old Luis Rocha took over the game. With 13:17 to go he subbed on and quickly reacted with a back-heel pass when the ball immediately came to him, and then tapped in the the final of three give-and-gos to pull Canada within a goal.
Six minutes later he ran another give-and-go with Moojen for another tap in goal that tied the game, and he wasn’t done. With 4:59 left Rocha took the ball near the yellow line, pump faked and then chipped a perfect pass to Moojen who volleyed it in on the backpost to give Canada their only lead of the night.
“He had a couple early chances, they didn’t go in, but he stuck with it,” said Oliviero. “He’s a crafty little player. If he plays for the franchise up in Canada I think they’ll be very lucky to have him.”
50 seconds later the physical play that had already idled Marco Terminesi, who was carried off in the second quarter, boiled over as Young and De Oliveira got tangled up and both teams started pushing and shoving each other. Young was ejected and De Oliveira was given a yellow card, setting up a Blast power play.
The always-composed Blast tied the game with 2:34 left when Pat Healey found Vini Dantas at the top of the box and his shot deflected in off the chest of Edgar Bartolomeu.
The Blast continue to create their own luck in crunch time. After Adriano Dos Santos’s errant defensive clearance gave Canada a dangerous free kick at the top of the arc, it was Baltimore who benefited on the counter attack. Juan Pereira blocked the free kick and Jereme Raley sprung him on a fast break goal to give the Blast the 8-7 lead with 1:25 to go.
“Unbelievable learning experience,” said Oliviero. “This is a great group of guys. We got a lot out of this game. Any time you can play the three-time champions they are going to find a way to stay in it, they’re going to find a way to win it, and they did what they did all last year. They found a way late in the game and came out with a one-goal win.
“It had a little bit of everything. They got a big lead. We came back, we tied it, we took the lead. Physicality took over. A little bit of fighting, a little bit of hockey in there. As a fan it was an exciting game to watch. It was a one goal game. It came down to the wire. We had a couple chances on the sixth attacker, but again just a great learning experience for the Canadian players, not only for the Arena World Championships that are coming up but also for the players who will be representing Toronto in the MASL this year.”
“It’s an exciting time for us in Ontario and Canada and we’re pretty excited to see the players have an opportunity to play professional soccer, especially arena soccer,” says Toronto-MASL General Manager Phil Ionadi.
When we see that Toronto team in the MASL this December, they will have some good talent to work with. “For us, having the ability to work with the national program, we’ll have games like we did this evening against Baltimore,” said Ionadi. “It’s critical in identifying talent. This past year the federation was able to launch a youth system and the Arena Premier League where we had a lot of players play for the first time.”
The Toronto team had protracted negotiations with the Hershey Centre, which was newly-responsored as the Paramount Fine Foods Centre. “There was a switch-over in people managing the facility to the new people now which is the city,” said Ionadi. “Everything is just getting finalized right now.”
With the I’s dotted and the T’s crossed Toronto is planning a press conference for September 12 to officially introduce the team name and logo to the public. It’s still undecided whether Canada’s greatest player Dwayne De Rosario will be a part of the roster.
“We made a jersey for him and said, ‘Whenever you’re ready,'” Ionadi says, “and when the March game was announced against Brazil he said, ‘I’m in,’ and he came in to the game and had an unbelievable game and scored four goals and we had an almost sold out crowd. I think he has an itch, so it’s up to him.”
- Sam Guernsey and Jayme Kapinos made their debuts for the Blast. Guernsey set up the Blast’s first goal.
- Terminesi, who was playing his first pro game in six years, left the game in the second quarter and came back from the locker room with his knee wrapped and a new set of crutches. “I tweaked it. I’ll be OK,” said Terminesi.
- “Robert Renaud is officially clear for soccer related exercises,” said Oliviero, who also coaches the Milwaukee Wave, “so if everything goes according to plan he’ll be 100% ready to go by the first day of preseason.”