The Baltimore Blast kicked off their latest title defense with a commanding 11-3 win over the Mississauga MetroStars Saturday night, before a sold out, SECU Arena record crowd of 3,811. Canadian international star Dwayne De Rosario scored two goals in his MASL debut in an otherwise tough night for the expansion MetroStars.
Each of the MetroStars players, and the franchise itself, were playing their first MASL game. The only player on the current roster with professional indoor experience is Marco Rodriguez, who was serving a one game suspension for a red card with the Florida Tropics in last year’s season finale.
But that’s not to say that Mississauga’s players were lacking in experience beyond the MASL’s rinks. De Rosario is Canada’s all-time leading scorer and is 9th in MLS history in goals. Adrian Cann and Molham Babouli also have played in MLS.
The Blast, meanwhile, hoisted a championship banner for the third straight year and entered a new era without their longtime General Manager Kevin Healey, and star defender and team captain Pat Healey, who joined the Harrisburg Heat this offseason.
The Blast put Mississauga in an early 3-0 hole, but the MetroStars chipped away and got within 3-2 on goals by De Rosario and Babouli.
“When we made it 3-2, boys were getting confident and they thought we’re in this,” said MetroStars coach Phil Ionadi. Two late second quarter goals by Daniel Peruzzi, however, restored the Blast to a comfortable 5-2 lead and Mississauga never threatened to get back into the game.
Ionadi highlighted his team’s inexperience and defensive shortcomings. “For us the most important thing is we take a lot of takeaways of what exactly we need to do. At the end of the day you’re playing a game that’s new to you. I told these guys every game’s going to be a learning experience. From the tap-ins I think I might have counted six goals from tap-ins back post and that’s just man marking.”
Ionadi also said his players were staying on the field too long, not used to the high intensity, short shifts that are commonplace in the indoor game.
De Rosario in his first arena league game, led Mississauga with two goals, but spent most of the game camped out at midfield, and even though he was usually accompanied by a Blast player, it allowed the Blast more room to attack 4v4. His frustration was increasingly visible as the game went on.
“Here you have a top player, scored two goals, had lots of chances, 40 years old, probably might have been the best player for us out there and that can’t be,” said Ionadi, who played three years indoors in the NPSL. “Some of these guys have to look in the mirror and say, ‘I have to give that kind of effort.’ I think that’s where the frustration comes in because you have younger guys who have so much ability, but the drive now to want it is critical. Dwayne’s a professional. He hates to lose.”
The two-time MLS Cup Most Valuable Player agreed. “I’m a competitor, I don’t like to lose,” De Rosario said. “I hate losing so you’re going to get frustrated, but it’s part of my growth. I understand that it’s going to take time. It’s not going to be perfect right away. There’s still a lot I need to work on and understand, more so the rules and technicalities, like one time we made a sub and you couldn’t change. It’s not easy when they have a good system. A system that works and everyone sticks to it.”
The Baltimore fans made a good impression on De Rosario, who once starred in the area for DC United. “It’s a great environment here in Baltimore,” he said. “Obviously they’re three-time champions. They proved it tonight. We proved our inexperience tonight. There’s only moving forward from here. Lot to learn. Lot of young guys. Some things we did alright. Some things we definitely need to work on, but the fans were fantastic, the environment’s great here. It’s high energy. You can see the people are really engaged.”
While the pun was not intended, Jonatas Melo and his new fiancee Jennifer Harris became engaged in the third quarter after Melo’s goal expanded the Blast’s lead to 6-2. Melo ran to the bench and grabbed a rose and jumped into the stands and gave it to Harris, but then he pulled out a ring box and got down on one knee and proposed creating a special moment the two of them and their 3,811 friends will always remember.
“I had to ask if I could do it,” said Melo. “During the summer I asked a couple months ago, ‘Can I do that?’ they said, ‘Yeah just don’t let it get in your head and get so anxious.’ They helped me out with the seats for her.”
Now with everything in place he just needed to score.
“I wanted to do it on the goal so that’s one thing I’ve been planning to do on the goal,” Melo said, still grinning ear to ear. “Her friends said if you don’t score a goal we can do it at the end of the game, but I said no I want to do it on the goal and I said if I don’t score today, maybe next game, but I was like I’m going to score today and I got to propose.”
As for the team, the Blast looked tougher than ever, even as they enter the post-Healey era. The win improved their regular season record at SECU Arena to 12-0.
“The Blast still have our core, the same core we’ve had the last four or five years,” Melo said. “Obviously Pat is a big loss and Lucas Roque is out injured, but we just try to work even harder. The new players coming up they have to step up. We try to keep the same way as a team right? That’s the difference with the Blast is we’re a team not just one player that scores a lot of goals.”