Blast prep for championship series this weekend

The setup was a lot like a boxing weigh-in, with the opponents seated on opposite sides of the podium. But the press conference ahead of the Major Arena Soccer League championship series, between the Baltimore Blast and Soles de Sonora, was decidedly more of a love fest.

"We think that this is the way it's supposed to be, to have the best organizations in the league" competing for the championship, said Blast owner Ed Hale at the presser, which was held at the Costas Inn restaurant in Dundalk.

He went on to praise the Soles' gutsy win against the San Diego Sockers in the semis, saying it showed character.

The Soles and Blast faced off for the league's Ron Newman Cup last year, and the crazy back-and-forth series that ended with Tony Donatelli scoring the decisive goal in overtime, was celebrated by both sides on Thursday.

Hale likened the atmosphere at Sonora's arena, with an announced crowd of 8,000 fans, during the final game to a gladiator movie.

Joshua Schaub, the first-year commissioner of the league, called it "the greatest rematch in arena soccer history," and Jose Luis, general manager of the Soles, promised that, "We're gonna have a great show for everybody at the end of the day."

The press conference also served as both an awards ceremony and state-of-the-league speech.

Schaub touted the progress made under his first year at the helm, pointing to having league games stream on YouTube, the increased vetting for new owners, expanded international events, the formation of a new minor league, and an increase in parity—42 percent of games were decided by two goals or less—as steps in the right direction.

"We have a long way to go," he admitted.

Schaub announced that an expansion team would start the 2018 season in the greater Toronto area, which gave way to part of the team's ownership, sports broadcaster Cam Stewart, aka "The Raging Redhead," booming into the mic in his best radio voice: "We love goals. We love soccer. And we love fun."

Arena soccer in a nutshell, y'all.

The Blast own eight titles in all and have appeared in the championship eight times in the last nine years—signs of their total dominance. But this year's squad faced its fair share of challenges, losing early to the Milwaukee Wave and Kansas City Comets.

Blast head coach Danny Kelly noted after the presser that there had been a lot of turnover from last year's team and said that at the start of the season, "we were a work in progress." But he said he was proud of the way the players were able to evolve over the course of the year, and how they took to the team's trademark style of shutdown defense.

Asked what it will take for the team to get its ninth championship, he listed the Soles' many scoring options, including Franck Tayou, the league leader in goals and total points.

"We're gonna have to limit the opportunities those guys have to score," he said.

Game 1 of the series takes place tomorrow at 8:05 p.m. at Royal Farms Arena. Game 2—and a deciding mini-game if necessary—is set for Sunday, in Hermosillo, Mexico. It will air at 9 p.m. EST.

The Blast are hosting a viewing party for Sunday's game at Gunpowder Lodge, a Kingsville bar and restaurant owned by former Blast player Danny Santoro.

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