The matchup between the Baltimore Blast and Soles de Sonora in the MASL championship perfectly underscores the direction of the league.
The Blast represent the old guard of indoor soccer that has carved out a loyal fanbase since arriving in Baltimore in 1980. Soles de Sonora represents the future of the MASL, which has successfully expanded to Mexico and has plans for a new franchise in Canada.
The Blast defeated Soles de Sonora to win the league title last season. This year, the two sides expect another competitive series, which opens April 7 at Royal Farms Arena. The teams meet again April 9 for Game 2 in Hermosillo, Mexico. If the series is tied, the teams will play a 15-minute mini-game to decide the champion.
A news conference for the championship series was held at Costas Inn in Dundalk, Md., April 6 and was attended by both teams, league officials, including MASL commissioner Josh Schaub, and local fans.
"We think this is the way it's supposed to be, because we have the best organizations in the league," Blast owner Ed Hale said. "We're going to have a very spirited game here and when we get down there."
Blast forward Vini Dantas has come up big during the postseason with a league-best six goals and seven assists. Fellow forward Andrew Hoxie has also been clutch, responding with a pair of game-winning goals.
Goalie William Vanzela leads the defense and has a league-best 4.82 goals-against average in the postseason.
"I'm very proud our team," Blast head coach Danny Kelly said. "To be the defending champions and take everybody's best shot to make it back to the championship again says a lot about the character of the team we have here in Baltimore. We're very much looking forward to defending that title."
The Soles de Sonora attack revolves around Franck Tayou, who led the MASL with 72 points, including 57 goals. Soles de Sonora is also strong in the back and allowed just six goals per game. Goalie Diego Reynoso has been solid and had a .695 save percentage during the regular season.
"These two teams deserve to be here," Soles de Sonora general manager Luis Paz said. "We're going to have a great series for everybody."
Commissioner Schaub lauded the progress of the league throughout the past season, as eight of the 17 teams saw boost in attendance. The MASL also enjoyed more parity, with 42 percent of the games decided by two goals or fewer.
"We are pushing [teams] hard every day to become legitimate sports franchises," Schaub said. "That will continue moving forward."
The MASL is also moving forward with expansion, with new teams in Rio Grande, Texas, and Toronto. However, Schaub said the league will not expand as quickly as some fans would like because there is a more comprehensive vetting system to ensure long-term success.
"We are going to make sure they are financially viable, the arenas are going to be cooperative with dates and with treating teams like professional [franchises]," Schaub said. "As hard as we want to push into other localities and more markets, we are going to be ultraconservative about who is let in as owners to our league. That is the path to grow the MASL and the future of indoor soccer -- through stability."
The MASL has utilized YouTube to livestream games. That strategy will continue to build bigger fanbases and sponsorships opportunities.
Earl Foreman Award
The Harrisburg Heat received the Earl Foreman Ownership Group of the Year award. The franchise saw a boost in attendance and improved its overall quality of play. The Heat were defeated by the Blast in this year's East Division final.
"We're looking forward to doing things even better than we've done in the past," said Heat owner Carl Delmont, who is also the CEO of Freedmont Mortgage, which is based in Hunt Valley, Md. "The fanbase continues to grow, and we're looking to get those numbers even higher. Building a winner does help. Congratulations to both teams. As Bachman-Turner Overdrive once said, 'You ain't seen nothing yet.' We'll be here next year. If not, the year after that."
Foreman, the namesake for the award, is the former minority owner of the Baltimore Bullets and served as the original commissioner for the Major Indoor Soccer League from 1978-1985 and in 1989. Foreman, who was inducted into the Blast's Hall of Fame in 2005, died Jan. 23 in Chevy Chase, Md.