The defending champs come to town, the place is packed and the crowd is electric. If you think you’re reading about another visit by the Red Sox or Yankees to Camden Yards, think again. The Baltimore Blast opened its season last night before an almost full house — a throng of 10,115 lured, in part, by a postgame concert by Big Daddy Weave, the centerpiece of Christian Youth Night — and came away with an 8-2 victory over the defending Major Indoor Soccer League champion Philadelphia KiXX.
Soccer fans are a curious breed — loyal to fault, eternally optimistic and genuinely appreciative of effort, even when it doesn’t translate into a victory. The Blast gave its masses plenty to cheer about Friday night, controlling play in the second half, preventing quality scoring chances by the KiXX and making life generally miserable for the guys from Philly. Newcomer Michael Todd, a Brit who played collegiately at Hofstra, scored a pair of goals in his MISL debut.
Sure, some of the methods the Blast uses might be criticized as hokey, but they work. Look at the sparkling eyes of the army of youth players parading around the field during pregame ceremonies and you quickly realize this is a huge deal for them. 1st Mariner Phil, the in-house cheerleader, may not be my cup of tea, but he keeps the energy level high. And the dice roll — where a lucky fan gets to try and spell out B-L-A-S-T using oversized dice, with a $1,000 certificate of deposit as the price — is a major crowd favorite. Last night’s contestant actually came within one letter of winning (though I doubt owner Ed Hale was really worried).
Professional soccer teams don’t last more than a quarter of a century by accident. They need committed fans, good ownership, smart front office personnel and, most importantly, a knack for connecting with their community. The Blast has done this, year after year, with impressive results. When the Blast hosts Milwaukee next Saturday, a near-sellout isn’t expected, but you could find worse ways to spend your family entertainment dollars than plopping yourself down in a lower-level seat and enjoying professional indoor soccer at its showmanlike best.