Week One of the MASL season is over, and who would have thought Utica City FC would be at the top of the standings? After inching by Harrisburg on Saturday, Utica buckled down and took apart the Baltimore Blast in their first home opener. The 3,028 fans at the Adirondack Bank Center were treated to a battle between two teams that will be jockeying for the Eastern Division title.

But, let’s go back to the game against Harrisburg first. Utica trailed most of this game, but they kept the deficit to one or two goals, a very manageable feat to overcome in indoor soccer. In the fourth quarter, they outplayed Harrisburg, scoring four 4th quarter goals to Harrisburg’s one.

December 1 Utica 9 Harrisburg 7

TURNING POINT OF THE MATCH: With nine seconds left in the 3rd quarter, and down by two, Nate Bourdeau took a pass from Joey Tavernese and buried it in the back of the net, cutting the lead to one. Giving up a goal in the final seconds took the wind out of Harrisburg’s sails, and it showed by getting outshot in the final quarter, 10-3.

WHAT DID WE LEARN? Utica started off slow, but after halftime, a sense of urgency overcame City. An area of concern was the penalty kill unit, which gave up two goals to Harrisburg’s Tom Mellor.

December 2 Utica 5 Baltimore 2

TURNING POINT OF THE MATCH: Darren Toby’s goal in the third quarter was the deciding factor in the 5-2 victory. After Toby launched a ball over the head of William Vanzela, it bounced back to Ben Ramin, who proceeded to place the ball in the exact same place as Toby did, but this time, the ball landed onto Darren’s head, and the next thing you know it is behind Vanzela in the goal. Utica never looked back after that, rounding out a perfect weekend.

WHAT DID WE LEARN? Baltimore had also played the night before, against the newest franchise in the MASL, the Mississauga MetroStars. They had an easier time with their opponent, so one would have thought the Blast would be going into Utica with the fresher legs. But, that was not the case. Utica dominated this game for 59 of the 60 minutes, with the only minute being the two goal flurry from the Blast in the third quarter.

Utica is a force to be reckoned with this season. From top to bottom, this is a very determined and talented team, and they showed they can go toe to toe with anyone, including the three-time defending champion Blast. I also learned quite a bit, not just about the game itself, but the atmosphere that Utica brought to the first home game of the season. If you read one of my previous articles, I was very impressed with the arena, and that was only for the scrimmage. Before the teams came out onto the field, a video played, showing the players, and they promised to play for the uniform, and to play for the city. It was so powerful, it brought me to tears. I’m also not afraid to admit that I had goosebumps throughout the introductions of both teams. During timeouts and dead balls, music played, and an emcee would get the crowd going with chants and songs. You could tell the players fed off of that energy, with every goal scored, the team rushed the field to celebrate. When the final whistle blew, a loud roar came over the Adirondack Bank Center from both excited fans, and very excited players. That made the hour long drive home much better. I’d also like to mention the YouTube feed. For being a new team, they almost had a perfect feed. My only complaint was the lack of a time clock with the score. Besides that, the commentators were very knowledgeable and into the game.

Utica can’t celebrate too long, as they have another back to back weekend coming up. They’ll head to Towson, Maryland on Saturday to face the same Blast team. SECU Arena, home to the Blast, is one of the hardest arenas to play in. They went undefeated last season at home, defeating Syracuse and Milwaukee in the playoffs. On Sunday, Utica will face former division rival Florida, a 9-4 winner over the St. Louis Ambush on Saturday night.

I hope to see another 3,000+ people at the Adirondack Bank Center next Sunday when the Tropics come to town! Who do I have winning these games, and the rest of the games for Week 2? Tune in to Merlin’s Picks! Until next time MASL Nation.