The Baltimore Blast were looking to reassert their dominance, while the Florida Tropics were still trying to prove they belonged among the MASL’s elite. Florida made their case by rallying from a pair of two goal deficits to win 7-6 on Ricardo Carvalho’s tap in goal at 5:34 of overtime before a sold out crowd of 3,744 at SECU Arena Saturday night.
Mohamed N’Diaye was an early irritant for the Tropics, scoring the Blast’s first goal on a give and go with Jamie Thomas, and then getting in a series of heated moments with several Florida players, but Zach Reget snuck behind the Blast defense, stepped past Adriano Dos Santos and scored through William Vanzela’s legs to tie the game 1-1.
Daniel Peruzzi put the Blast back on top with a bit of individual brilliance, and Vini Dantas scored a power play goal to put Baltimore up 3-1 to round out the first quarter.
The Tropics started their first comeback when newly acquired Blast defender Richard Schmermund lost the ball on the boards and Lucas Montelares burst into the open space and beat Vanzela to cut the lead to 3-2.
Matt Clare tied it about five minutes later, cleaning up a loose ball in front of the goal. Another six minutes later Lucio Gonzaga scored on a free kick from the top of the arc against a leaky Blast wall, but the Tropics had their own defensive wall issues and Dos Santos was the beneficiary, tying the game 4-4 right before halftime. Florida’s only regulation lead lasted 18 seconds.
In the third quarter the Blast went ahead again. Dantas started a perfect tic-tac-toe counter attack goal finished off by Juan Pereira on a pass from Thomas to make it 5-4. Late in the quarter Clare’s ill-advised clear off the corner boards came right to Peruzzi who took a dribble and then blasted a shot in off Tropics defender Rafa Alves, who had little chance of making the save. The Blast would not score again in the game’s final 22 minutes.
The Blast’s 6-4 lead held until almost six minutes into the fourth quarter. Reget’s second goal of the game, a sneaky near post shot, got the Tropics within one. Florida was drifting into sixth attacker territory, but Clare averted that necessity when he headed in his own rebound to tie the game with 3:33 remaining.
“In the locker room I told the guys I played here many times before and it’s about goal swings,” said Tropics forward Joey Tavernese. “People score three in a row, the next team scores four in a row so it’s back and forth and I’ve always played here in front of a big crowd and you can’t let it affect you. I don’t think we were ever feeling like we weren’t going to win, just because we had so many chances offensively.”
The crowd went full tilt in the game’s final minute when the Blast just missed connecting on a two-on-one and then Dantas’s shot was thwarted by one of goalkeeper Hugo Silva’s best saves of the night.
“I looked up at the scoreboard, 6-6 going into overtime, and it’s the same thing every time I’ve been here,” said Tavernese, “It’s always been a tight game, whether it’s Syracuse, Utica, or now the Tropics.”
Midway through the extra session, Dos Santos tried to make a back pass, presumably to Vanzela, but he mishit the ball and it went to Victor Parreiras who centered it off the boards for a tap-in by a streaking Ricardo Carvalho, and the Tropics stormed the field to celebrate their sudden death victory.
“Most of these guys haven’t won here,” said Tavernese. “It was a great crowd. It’s nice to get that championship environment. It’s a great victory because it gives them another loss, but at the end of the day it’s still a long season.”
“That was a fantastic game,” said Tropics Head Coach Clay Roberts. “It’s a great win for us. Great character doing what we thought was going to be successful even going down 6-4. Just weather the storm best we can and we think we’ll get back into it and stick to what we’re doing well. They got in a little foul trouble with Adriano (Dos Santos) late so that’s a great defender who can’t sit in front of the goal and defend well, and we tried to put a lot of pressure there in front of the goal because of that, and got the goals.”
The Blast hadn’t played since December 29, but the Tropics routed the Rochester Lancers 17-4 on Friday night and had a short window to get to Baltimore. “That was a pretty easy game obviously, judging by the score line, but it’s tough,” said Tavernese. “You play at 7:30 at night, you don’t get done til 10:00, by the time you get on the road it’s 11:30, I’m getting back here like 5:00am and then you have a quick turnaround to play again so credit to the guys.”
“Our matchups against their big targets were key,” said Roberts. “We tried to limit them and keep them off the scoreboard. I think our back four did a good job. Having played last night, having traveled in, they all did a good job.”
“A lot of guys dug in deep and defended,” said Tavernese. “We did what we had to do. There’s a lot of talent and firepower on this team and a lot of guys showed up when they needed to.”
Carvalho is at the top of the Tropics scoring chart with 21 points, which is tied for second in the MASL, and he now has three game-winning goals.
“He’s a great player,” said Roberts. “The guy is coming into his own. We’ve given him the freedom to find good places and he was kind of stuck last year in Harrisburg just playing up top as a target and that isolates a player sometimes. He’s such a creative player and we’ve got him in a place where he can move and have freedom and shoot and so I think he’s reaping the benefits of a lot of hard work.”
The Blast fell to 4-5, while the reloaded Tropics are now 7-1 after going 6-18 last year. While Florida has gotten major contributions from the new players they signed in free agency and acquired in trades, Matt Clare and Antonio Manfut, two returning players, have upped the ante this year as well.
Roberts said of Clare, “Matt had a little injury when we took him in from Tacoma and I told him, ‘Look, it’s going to be a process. You have a multi-year deal. Get yourself healthy. We have a lot of troubles that we’re in, so just come and try to get into the right mindset.’ This offseason he worked really hard and he’s playing kind of like we’ve seen him in the San Diego days. He’s getting in and around the goal. He’s got some goals. He’s gaining confidence. Tonight was a great confidence game for him.
“Manfut’s the same way. I told him, ‘Look you’re playing some of your best soccer,’ and sometimes his mind is his own worst enemy so we kind of help just direct him and isolate, ‘Hey play in these areas and we think you’re going to have a lot of success,’ and he did that tonight and had a great game.”
The Blast are now off for 16 days until they host the Sonora Soles on January 20 followed by the San Diego Sockers on January 25. Florida kicks off a three game home stand on January 12 against the Orlando SeaWolves.