The Milwaukee Wave played an aggressive, smothering defense for 60 minutes and topped the Baltimore Blast 5-2, handing them only their second loss in 21 games at SECU Arena on Friday night.

“This venue it’s always tough to play,” said Wave midfielder Ian Bennett, who finished with two goals. “Baltimore is a fantastic team. Obviously at home it’s tough to beat them. This is only their second loss in here so it was massive. They’re going to come back. They’re going to be better, but today we were a little bit sharper on the defensive end. Only giving up two goals in this arena? I mean fantastic I’ll take it.”

Bennett and Max Ferdinand are known for their goal scoring prowess, and playmaking ability, respectively, but both players were just as engaged defensively tonight.

“Obviously we like to play offensively, but today we just had to do the dirty work if you want to get the result,” said Bennett. “We just had to make sure we kept respecting them every quarter even when we were doing good we had to remember these guys are the three-peat champs so we gotta make sure we stay even keel, stay the course and we’re just going to get after it.”

“Every time we play the Blast it’s going to be a battle,” said Ferdinand. “We stick with the game plan, we defended and anytime we come out on top against Baltimore it’s a huge win, but we have another one tomorrow so we have to rest and be ready for tomorrow against Harrisburg.”

The Blast got on the board just 94 seconds into the game when Elton De Oliveira caught Wave goalie Rafael Dias out of the net, but less than 30 seconds later Ferdinand scored a restart goal off an assist from Marcio Leite, who returned to the lineup after missing three games with an injury.

Baltimore took their final lead of the game at 6:38 of the second quarter when Mike Deasel’s long pass was bodied in by Adriano Dos Santos, while the Blast were shorthanded. The Wave made good on the power play, however, 37 seconds later when Bennett, staked out in the corner, side-footed a Luan Oliveira pass past William Vanzela.

Forty-eight seconds later Andre Hayne scored the eventual game-winning goal, with the Wave leading at that point 3-2 heading into halftime.

Leite scored at 8:44 of the third quarter to extend the lead to 4-2 and then the Wave dug in and defended, killing two penalties along the way. Bennett used his speed to close out the scoring with an empty net goal with 19 seconds left in the game.

“Milwaukee’s an experienced team and they defend well as a team,” said Blast coach Danny Kelly. “They made things difficult for us by getting five guys behind the ball every time. We had chances but when you get chances against a team that doesn’t give up many chances you have to execute.

“We didn’t hit the target. We gotta be better period. Our soccer’s gotta be better.”

The Blast fell to 9-6 on the year and now sit 2 1/2 games behind Utica City FC, who beat the Mississauga MetroStars tonight to improve to 12-4. The Blast play Utica at home on Sunday.

“It’s another big game for us against a team we’re trying to chase in the standings,” said Kelly referring to Utica. “Another good experienced team that is in our way. We gotta be better than we were tonight that’s for sure. There’s a lot of areas where we can be better so that’s a positive. We know we can be better in certain areas. Now we gotta just do it.”

Milwaukee’s 5th straight win improved them to 13-2 with a five game lead over the Orlando SeaWolves in the South Central Division.

“I couldn’t be prouder of the players and the commitment to defense,” said Wave coach Giuliano Oliviero. “It was a total team effort, the commitment to get five behind the ball, the commitment to block shots. Rafael made big saves down the stretch and we scored five. We created a few more opportunities we thought, and so did they, but that’s arena soccer and at the end of the day the difference in the game was our willingness to really defend and stay focused through the whole 60 minutes.”

The Wave played without starting goalkeeper Josh Lemos, forward Robert Renaud, and defender Daniel Chamale, but all three are close to returning. The Wave have been dealing with injuries on a rotating basis. In addition to Leite and Hayne, the Wave recently saw Guilherme Veiga return to the lineup. The three missing players could have played this weekend but Oliviero is being conservative. “As far as the big picture goes and playoffs I think we need to get them 100% or close to it before we bring them back,” he said.

Despite the injuries, the Wave have maintained their effectiveness. “This is depth that the Wave haven’t had in years past,” said Oliviero. “Usually you come in with three key players out it’s really tough to come into this building and win but with the depth we have this year guys stepped up and sometimes the performance is good or better. It’s competition in practice and it’s performance in games and it’s always difficult for me to choose the lineup.”

With nine games remaining the Wave have a chance to catch the 14-1 San Diego Sockers for the league’s top overall record, which would ensure home field advantage in the conference final and the Ron Newman Cup final should the Wave advance that far.

“We’re not at the finish line,” said Oliviero shrugging off their large division lead. “We have San Diego in our sights. We’re not sure if they’re even going to drop another game this year. We didn’t enjoy coming into Baltimore last year and playing a one game playoff so that’s probably objective #1 to secure home field throughout the playoffs. If San Diego decides to slip up hopefully we can keep this going and keep pace with them.”