Empire Loses 9-7 to Blast as Another Rally Falls Short

by Empire Strykers

Towson, Md. — For the second time in six days, the Empire Strykers failed to complete a spirited rally, as they suffered a 9-7 defeat at the hands of home side Baltimore Blast on Friday evening. Trailing 6-1 at the half, Empire battled back in impressive fashion after the break, only to have time run out on them the way it had in Sunday's home loss to the Monterrey Flash. While Mexican star Marco Fabián continued his standout play in the clash with Baltimore, bagging two goals and an assist, his attacking output was matched by Blast forward Juan Pereira.
Early in the opening quarter, the Strykers struggled to match the home side's intensity, quickly falling behind 3-0. After ex-Empire ace Jesus Pacheco set up Pereira and Oumar Sylla picked out Ricardinho, Abdul Mansaray was highly unlucky to see his attempted block on a Tony Donatelli shot result in a wicked deflection that left 'keeper Brandon Gomez without a chance. Pereira later converted a Moises Gonzalez helper on a power play for the Blast's fourth, which would stand as the final tally of the period.  
Empire finally showed signs of life when Stefan Mijatovic released a powerful right-footed drive from far outside the area, Baltimore 'keeper Mike Zierhoffer leaving his feet to palm the ball out of the upper right-hand corner and over the frame.
The hosts continued their strong play in the second quarter and were rewarded with another goal by Ricardinho. The 34-year-old easily finished on an assist by recent roster addition Ricardo Diegues, who had broken through on the left and centered the ball courtesy of a clever pass off the boards. Sylla subsequently made it 6-0, releasing a beautiful left-footed curling effort from range that found the net via the inside of the left upright, Donatelli providing the helper.
After Diegues forced a strong kick-save from Empire netminder Gomez, the visitors got their first of the match. Momo Gueye unleashed a dangerous shot that appeared to be tipped over and off the glass by Zierhoffer, the rebound falling to Garrett Blume, who scored by way of a spectacular scissor kick for his debut goal in professional indoor soccer. Shortly thereafter, Diegues was again bested by Gomez, as he streaked down field on a breakaway for a one on one with the Strykers 'backstop. Gomez did well to stand his ground and deny the midfielder's attempted finish toward the near post.
Baltimore didn't take long to make it 7-1 following intermission, Pereira setting up Jeremy Raley for the netter, followed by Riley Urie's maiden pro indoor netter at the other end. MASL rookie Urie touched the ball home on an assist from Fabián, who had been released down the right via an excellent opening pass by Empire 'keeper Gomez. Visibly energized by the goal, the Southern Californians kept pushing and pulled another one back, Mansaray converting from Gueye to cut Empire's deficit to 7-3.
Moments later, Zierhoffer thought he had collected a gorgeous assist, Diegues running onto the Blast netminder's pinpoint throw and finishing first-time. However, an official review produced a very different outcome, the tally being wiped off and Baltimore's Pereira being shown a blue card for deliberate handling during a sliding tackle. The Strykers pounced on the man advantage, Fabián firing home from Justin Stinson to make it 7-4. The final goal of the third period belonged to the Blast, as club icon Adriano Dos Santos found the net on a counterattack, finishing off a great interplay with Diegues.
Empire got back to within three early in the game's closing quarter. Recognizing his opportunity on a breakaway, Alan Perez stunned the opposition by playing the ball off the boards and to himself before beating Zierhoffer for an 8-5 scoreline. Deep into the period, Baltimore then had a golden chance to pull away on a power play, but Gomez stifled Victor Parreiras' fierce short-range effort by way of a right-handed reflex.
Instead of the hosts, it would be the visitors scoring again, Fabián releasing Stefan Mijatovic down the right and the Illinois native picking out Gerardo Jurado in the center. Midfielder Jurado made no mistake as he side-volleyed the ball back across the frame and inside the right post. Sensing a come-from-behind victory within reach, the Strykers left it all out on the field, ultimately playing with six attackers to try and get to within one. However, their hopes evaporated when Blast 'keeper Zierhoffer got hold of the ball in his own area and made it 9-6 by throwing it down the length of the field and into the open net.
Still, the Empire players refused to lie down, displaying impressive fighting spirit as they created two more outstanding looks. First, Mansaray received the ball with his back to the goal, flicked it up to himself, and produced a spectacular bicycle kick that forced Zierhoffer to dive to his right and reach behind himself for the stop. Then Fabián rounded out the final score at 9-7 by connecting with a Mijatovic pass and firing a low bullet inside the left upright from well outside the area.
The Empire Strykers have little time to rue their poor first-half performance as they take on the Kansas City Comets tomorrow in the second of back-to-back away games. Paul Wright's men return to Ontario's Toyota Arena on February 18 for a meeting with the San Diego Sockers. Tickets to the rivalry clash are available at www.tixr.com/groups/theempirestrykers.