Utica, N.Y. - The regular season is over and the quest for a Ron Newman Cup begins this weekend for Utica City FC.
The team will take on the Baltimore Blast in the divisional round of the playoffs, an abbreviated best-of-three series.
The team has had a fantastic season, finishing at 17-7. They checked off the first box of their season goals last Friday, edging out the Blast for the regular eastern division title.
That marked the first time that that Baltimore has failed to win the division title in the five-year history of the MASL, and even longer dating back to their time in the MISL before that.
"It was great," said Utica City FC defender, Darren Toby. "Especially the core guys that have been here the past seven or eight years, we've always missed it by one spot and it was always Baltimore in our way so it was just great to get the division title."
However, they now enter the playoffs with the tough task of trying to take down the three-time defending champions.
"We can't celebrate too much because Baltimore is still the three-time defending champion," said Toby. "Until we get past them, we haven't done anything really. So we've just got to take it one game at a time and go from there."
While UCFC is excited they were able to take home the division title, they've now turned the page and are focused on the next step, which is ending Baltimore's reign in the postseason.
"Anytime you want to be the best you have to beat the best," said head coach, Ryan Hall. "In order for us to prove that we're the top team in the league we've got to go through Baltimore."
The coaches and players are looking forward to the opportunity. As coach Hall put it, there's a quiet confidence within the team that this is the year they finally break through and send the Blast packing.
"They're ready to go, this is a long time coming," said Hall. "This is our best opportunity in the last nine years including the previous years [as the Syracuse] Silver Knights to take it to Baltimore. So if it's not going to be this year, we're in trouble.
These guys are ready to go, they're excited, they're itching to get down there and go at them."
They begin the playoff slate with Game 1 on the road down at the SECU Arena in Baltimore on Saturday. Despite it not being a single elimination game, UCFC is treating it as such.
"It's always good to get a win on the road and it can't be any better than to go into Baltimore, the three-time defending champion, and steal Game One," Toby said. "We know that we've got the back end with the best fans in the league to come home on Monday and hopefully close off the series."
Game 1 in Baltimore on Saturday begins at 6 p.m., with Game 2 back in Utica at the Adirondack Bank Center in on Monday, April 22 at 6:30 p.m. If the teams split the first two games, there will be a deciding mini-game following the conclusion of Game 2.