The Milwaukee Wave pulled off back-to-back close wins over the weekend to defeat the Cedar Rapids Rampage and advance to the Eastern Conference Finals, one game away from the Major Arena Soccer League championship.
The Wave traveled to Cedar Rapids on Saturday afternoon and won Game 1 of the best-of-three series in dramatic fashion, beating the Rampage, 9-8, in overtime on a game-winning goal from Ian Bennett. Then, 24 hours later, Milwaukee completed the two-game sweep at UWM Panther Arena with another narrow win, 8-7, to dispatch Cedar Rapids.
Afterward, it was still uncertain where the one-game Eastern Conference Final would be played. If the Syracuse Silver Knights had been able to come back and win two games in a row against the Baltimore Blast, the conference final would have been played in Milwaukee. Unfortunately for the Wave and their fans, however, Baltimore took care of business Sunday night, beating Syracuse, 5-4, and earning home field advantage for Saturday’s Eastern Conference Final.
That outcome not only prevents local fans from seeing the Wave at home one more time, but also it means the team won’t play for the chance to advance to the Ron Newman Cup at UWM Panther Arena, where Milwaukee went 10-1 this season.
After another big performance Sunday afternoon, forward Ian Bennett, who scored three goals, noted how important the home field has been.
"The proof is in the pudding, man. We only lost one game here," he said. "We love the home field, the fans, we get so much energy off them and they always support us, and it’s been great this year."
Head coach Giuliano Oliviero echoed Bennett’s sentiments, particularly lauding the Wave crowd.
"It’s like having an extra player in here," he said. "When the game is tight and the game is on the line, they really give the players that little extra lift they need. And they’ve been like that all season, they’ve been fantastic. Not only this year, but all the years that I’ve been here, so we love our fans."
Indeed, the electric atmosphere was amped-up from kickoff to the final horn on Sunday. Game 2 saw four lead changes, five tied scores and neither team led by more than a goal the entire afternoon. You could have cut the tension with a knife. And goals weren’t all that was keeping the crowd’s attention: The 4,891 fans in attendance reacted fervidly if there was a missed or controversial call, a breakaway, missed shot, big save, everything.
Once Milwaukee finally was able to catch its breath after the series win, Oliviero alluded to how energy and intensity come with the territory of playoff soccer.
"It’s the playoffs," he said. "Would we have liked it to have gone a little smoother? Yeah, but anytime you’re in the playoffs it’s anyone’s game, whether it’s home or away.
"I thought we had great crowd support today; our fans were amazing. I thought they helped us get over the top. Two games in 24 hours, and couldn’t be prouder of the players."
The Divisional Series triumph leaves Milwaukee two wins away from the franchise’s seventh indoor league championship. On Friday at 6:35 p.m., the Wave will face the Blast in Baltimore.
If Milwaukee makes it to the Ron Newman Cup, it will be playing for the championship at the home arena of whoever wins the Western Conference Final, either the Monterrey Flash or San Diego Shockers.
But just because the Wave played their last game in town this season doesn’t mean the support should stop. Fans can watch Milwaukee playoff action on the MASLtv YouTube channel here.