Wave, Blast add new chapter to rivalry
Keith Tozer has been around the block more than a few times in 27 seasons as a soccer coach, yet there are still some things that leave him pleasantly surprised, like playing in a second consecutive championship match.
It's interesting, considering everyone in Milwaukee and the Wave organization expects Tozer and his team to be doing just that.
"In modern day sports, it is extremely difficult to not only win a back-to-back, it's extremely difficult to get to back-to-back," said the veteran coach, who was named the MISL Coach of the Year Thursday. "It's extremely difficult not matter what league it is, no matter how many teams there are, it's difficult because you're the hunted. And at the same time it's human instinct to think once I've got to the top I don't have to do the same (things) when literally, you have to do more."
The Wave play the Baltimore Blast for the Major Indoor Soccer League championship this weekend for the second straight season, beginning tonight in Baltimore at 6:35 p.m. The two teams have a rich history and a deep rivalry – one forged not through regular season contests but by championships.
In the last 14 years, each team has captured five MISL titles.
"That's your goal every season, to set yourself up to have an opportunity to play in a final," said Wave defender Joe Hammes. "We've been fortunate in my time where we've been in a lot of finals and set ourselves up for playing in a big game through all the preparation and all the little things that we do throughout the season. Now, the Baltimore Blast, they're the same way. It seems like a lot of times you've got Milwaukee versus Baltimore and that's going to be the champion. There's a lot of similarities there between the franchises."
Milwaukee celebrated its most recent title on Baltimore's pitch last season, and the Wave know the Blast will be looking for a measure of redemption and an edge, however temporary, in championship bragging rights.
In a change from last season, which was a one match final, the teams will head to U.S. Cellular Arena on Sunday at 3 p.m. If the series is tied after the second match, a 15 minute mini-game will be played, followed by a Golden Goal (sudden death) session if needed.
Adding some flavor to the series are the individual stars on each team.
The Blast have three All-MISL First Team players in goalkeeper Sagu, defender Mike Lookingland and midfielder Max Ferdinand while forward Machel Millwood made the second team. Hammes was also an All-MISL Second Team pick, along with Wave midfielder Marcio Leite.
Baltimore defender Stephen Deroux and Milwaukee forward Nicolas Perera made the All-Rookie team.
It would seem the Blast received more recognition in that regard, but Leite is an MVP finalist while Perera is in the running for Rookie of the Year.
"There are no surprises," Hammes said. "We've battled against those guys for many years."
Sagu and Milwaukee goalkeeper Marcel Feenstra are up for Goalkeeper of the Year while Lookingland and Hammes are up for Defender of the Year and for the Wave, it's the success of Feenstra and its defense that is exciting, especially in such a high scoring sport.
Despite the Blast's ability to pile up goals, the Wave feels it has the ability to shut them down enough to get one more goal on the board.
"It's kind of cliché, but defense wins championships," Hammes said. "Especially on the road (tonight), we want to go in there and not let them get off to a hot start."
That mindset, along with the talent of both teams and a heated rivalry, should make this weekend a compelling watch and prove that even the most expected scenarios can produce new, surprising results.
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