Down 0-1 in the MASL championship series after a defensive, physical 4-2 loss to the Soles de Sonora at Royal Farms Arena on Friday, the Baltimore Blast flew to Mexico needing to win two games on Sunday to defend their league title.
After the Soles scored two unanswered goals to start the third quarter of Game 2, jumping out to a 6-3 lead, it seemed entirely possible the Blast would be swept.
But they kept fighting, as has been the case all season and in these playoffs especially. By about 1:26 a.m. Eastern Standard Time, the Ron Newman Cup was theirs, the team's ninth championship in franchise history. The miraculous turnaround was a lot like this year's Super Bowl, when the New England Patriots somehow dug themselves out of a hole and came back to win in overtime. Only this featured a 15-minute mini game immediately after to crown a winner, as well as some last-minute twists and turns that perfectly sum up the craziness of arena soccer.
Fans that packed the dining area of the Gunpowder Lodge in Kingsville for the official viewing party knew better than to leave when things were looking grim in the third, and they were rewarded with goals by Vini Dantas, Tony Donatelli, and Andrew Hoxie that chipped away at the Soles' lead. Entering the fourth, it was 7-6 Soles, but that didn't last long. Dantas buried one in the back of the net from the corner to even the score several minutes in. The Gunpowder Lodge exploded.
It was a bruising back-and-forth from there, with each team delivering its share of hard fouls, some of which almost erupted into brawls. The field at the Centro de Usos Múltiples in Hermosillo is shorter and narrower than the one at Royal Farms Arena, and the players were bouncing around it like pinballs. Players would hobble off the field, totally gased, and reappear minutes later during another line change. Both teams were battling their asses off.
With just under 25 second left, Christian Segura kicked a dribbler that hit off the wall and trickled toward Franck Tayou, the Soles' biggest star, who rebounded it for an easy goal. 8-7 Soles with 18 seconds left in the game. The air went out of the Gunpowder Lounge. Tayou ripped his jersey off and ran around the field in celebration. He was later shown on screen openly weeping with joy after hugging his brother. After an incredible comeback, it felt like the Soles had finally found a way to seal the deal.
Until they didn't.
Shortly after the kickoff, the Blast launched the ball off the wall near the post. Adriano Dos Santos tried to control it and keep pushing toward the goal, and as he and several Soles defenders fell over in a heap, the ball bounced off Dos Santos' body—possibly, replay later revealed, off his hand—and into the back of the net. The game was again tied, which took all of about seven seconds to happen. The Gunpowder came back to life with cheers and high fives.
Onto golden-goal overtime. This was about 12:39 a.m. in Kingsville. Seven minutes in, goalie William Vanzela lofted a pass toward midfield that riccocheted just so and found Juan Pereira on a break away. Soles goalie Diego Reynoso came out to meet him, and just before he was pushed over, Pereria kicked a bouncer that scooted by. Another ecstatic roar in Kingsville. Some, especially those with kids, had left, but most of the crowd remained.
With the series tied 1-1, the two teams would play a mini game for it all—it's kind of insane way to decide it, but it's also crazy enough to work.
Nearly 10 minutes in, Dantas scored yet again, and the defense shut it down the rest of the way. The game was over at roughly 1:26 a.m. For the second year in a row, the Blast had gone down to Sonora and won in incredibly dramatic fashion. (With morning at work facing the both of us, my buddy and I had driven back to Baltimore for the end of the game. I'm sure whoever was still at the Gunpowder Lodge was ecstatic. The two of us had a celebratory beer.)
Early Saturday morning, following the team's deflating Game One loss at home, Vanzela, one of the team's captains, posted on Facebook, "We know we can do it and we are going to give everything to do it!!!!"
Earlier this afternoon, he was streaming video of his teammates poolside at the hotel in Mexico, celebrating with yet another trophy.