Nelson Santana was a major force for the Harrisburg Heat on both ends of the field in an emotional 8-6 win over the Baltimore Blast before a season-high 3,027 fans Saturday night at the Farm Show Arena.
Nelson torched his former team for three goals, but almost got thrown out of the game for taunting the Blast players after his first goal. Santana got a yellow card after his end-to-end goal gave the Heat a 5-3 lead with 35 seconds left in the second quarter. When the half ended Santana continued his verbal tirade, but was rescued by Heat coach Pat Healey.
“I was just trying to get our team fired up,” Santana said. “I celebrated not just because of the goal, I wanted my teammates to get on board. I wanted to say ‘I’m here. Let’s go. We can beat Baltimore.’”
“These are emotional games for Nelson,” said Healey, who also earned his first win against his old team. “The funny thing is he took a lot of gambles tonight and every time it seemed to work out. He played great. He’s an emotional leader. I think he has something to prove in this league, but he doesn’t have to prove anything to me. That’s why I brought him here. I knew what he could do.”
In both games this weekend, Harrisburg was tied 1-1, 2-2, and 3-3 before taking a lead they would not relinquish.
Ricardo Carvalho’s goal at 12:08 of the second quarter gave the Heat the lead for good. Santana’s emotional goal put Harrisburg up 5-3, but then Marco Nascimento scored with less than a second left in the half to get Baltimore within one. Matt Perrella seemed to make a big save, but then fumbled the ball into the net as Jon Orlando lurked near the goal line.
If Baltimore’s late goal gave the Blast any momentum, it was taken away by a questionable call late in the third quarter when Ibrahima Keita was penalized for an elbow in what looked like incidental contact that was embellished by Daniel Villela.
A minute later he drew another penalty when Jonatas Melo came in late and the bottom of his foot collided with Villela’s leg. Villela did not return and Melo, to his astonishment, was given a straight red card.
“People are killing us. They’re killing us and we’re playing hard, we’re playing smart and people are hurting us. Hurting us. Those are bad fouls. It’s part of the game, but you need to get penalized for it.” — Harrisburg Heat coach Pat Healey
“They just lost their composure,” said Healey. “Keita slapped Danny (Villela). You just can’t reach back and slap a guy and they got emotional and then Melo, because he was emotional, very uncharacteristic of him, that’s what happens when you lose your cool. It doesn’t happen to Baltimore much.”
Harrisburg had already lost Ty Hall on Friday. Tavoy Morgan was also injured Friday and did not return to the field against Utica City FC, but did suit up Saturday even though he was clearly not at full strength.
“He’s gotta get x-rayed,” said Healey of Villela. “You know we have two x-rays from last night and we’re going to have two on Monday. People are killing us. They’re killing us and we’re playing hard, we’re playing smart and people are hurting us. Hurting us. Those are bad fouls. It’s part of the game, but you need to get penalized for it.”
The Heat needed only five seconds to capitalize on the two-man advantage when Santana netted his second. Two minutes later it was a hat trick and Harrisburg was rolling, 7-4.
Elton De Oliveira got one back for the Blast 3:30 into the final quarter, but the Blast were held scoreless for the next nine minutes. Still, with less than three minutes left and trailing 7-5, Blast coach Danny Kelly did not go to the sixth attacker. William Vanzela started to pinch up, but he never crossed midfield. Kelly’s restraint paid off when Dani Oliveira ripped a shot from outside the yellow line to cut the Heat lead to 7-6.
With less than two minutes left the Blast did go to the sixth attacker and it immediately backfired. Perrella caught a high ball in the arc and threw it all the way downfield into the Blast’s empty net to seal an 8-6 win. “It was pretty sweet,” Perrella said of his first career goal.
“It was a great weekend, two wins,” said Healey, also referring to Friday’s 7-4 win over Utica. “It was against our divisional rivals, we have to keep playing them over and over again. These are well-deserved victories that should have happened before, they just didn’t. We didn’t secure victories: Utica the first game (December 1), we had Baltimore (on January 19), tie game outplaying them just couldn’t find that go-ahead goal. We earned those victories this weekend.”
“I guess we’re learning, and I’m learning, that it’s never over,” said Perrella, the MASL rookie who earned his first two career indoor victories this weekend. “No lead is safe. I think we’re learning to build some grit. That’s a key characteristic of a good team.”
Perrella had to be much more active Saturday against the Blast than he was in Friday’s game and he came up with several big saves. “Friday we had a lot of guys helping out,” said Perrella. “That was team defense to a ‘T’. Everyone made blocks, I made some saves when I had to and we were able to score some goals as well. Same thing tonight. I think a lot of guys were able to contribute defensively and also we were able to finish a lot more.”
The Heat improved to 3-7, but have now won three straight at home. “I think with a lot of young players, we’re still trying to get the hang of it,” said Perrella. “It’s still new to a lot of guys. Maybe this is a turning point.”