In a critical divisional matchup against Utica City FC March 25, Lucas Roque notched his 25th and 26th goals of the 2021-22 Major Arena Soccer League season.

The second goal put the game out of reach — a 6-3 Blast win — and set a new career high for the Brazilian striker in his eighth season. But the following night, Baltimore lost to the league-leading San Diego Sockers, 8-6. Roque was held scoreless.

The new goals record was a gratifying personal achievement for Roque, who also set a career high in assists this season with 13. But if the Blast doesn’t win, the accolades mean little.

“It’s been working out. I can’t complain,” Roque said of the best season of his indoor career, but, “at the end, it won’t matter if we don’t win.”

The two late-season games were a microcosm for the Blast, which ended the regular season with a 12-9 record before falling to the Chihuahua Savage in the MASL quarterfinals.

While Roque finished with the most goals on the team with 26, his scoring typically correlated with whether the Blast would win or not. In the 10 games that Roque scored two or more goals, the Blast went 7-3. When he was held to one goal or no goals, the team’s record was 5-6.

This feast-or-famine scenario was largely due to Roque being one of the few scoring options for team up front early in the season.

“I came in with the mindset that this year had to be a big year because we lost a lot of players,” Roque said. “We always had three targets, and this year we came in with one target and it was me.”

In the offseason, the team had signed forward Jack Shearer and former Blast star Max Ferdinand, but the 35-year-old Ferdinand went down with a season-ending Achilles injury in late February.

The Blast added two more forwards by signing Oswald Annang in January and trading for Howard Miller Jr. in February. In March, the team also traded for longtime club staple Vini Dantas, who had started the season with the Tacoma Stars.

Veteran forwards Juan Pereira and Jamie Thomas finished with 10 and 9 goals, respectively. Midfielders Jonatas Melo and Tony Donatelli combined to score 44 goals and tally 34 assists.

Roque’s performance was a boon for head coach David Bascome, who looked to his forward to step up under difficult circumstances.

“I’m really pleased with Lucas because not only has he been good over a full season but he’s been called on even more,” Bascome said. “I know that the physical part has really been a demand. And he has so much discipline for himself and the game. He keeps himself in good shape.”

Roque’s hard-nosed mentality has made him an indispensable part of the Blast during his career. It has also helped him make a habit of coming through when his team needs him the most.

As a rookie in 2012-13, Roque emerged as a lethal scoring threat on a team stacked with veterans. Roque finished with 14 goals and eight assists.

In the playoffs that season, Roque notched six more goals. The last came in the deciding game of the Major Indoor Soccer League championship against the Missouri Comets. Roque collected a deflected ball off the wall and struck a spectacular bicycle kick that ended up clinching the title. After finishing runners-up in the two previous seasons, the Blast had finally broken through, thanks, in part, to Roque’s golden foot.

That’s just who Roque has been throughout his career, Dantas said.

“Lucas’ game has always been there and he’s always delivered what’s been asked of him,” he said. “And this year more was asked of him.”

Roque’s legend grew even more in his fourth season, 2015-16, when he crushed Missouri’s playoff hopes once again in the MASL Eastern Conference finals after Dantas went down with an injury early in the playoffs.

In the deciding game, Roque tied the score with a minute left and then scored the game-winner in the opening minute of the second overtime to secure a 4-3 victory.

Two weeks later, Roque put on another masterclass in the Ron Newman Cup finals against the Sonora Suns, scoring five goals and assisting on four more across two games, to win playoff MVP and help secure the Blast’s first title since his rookie season.

“That year, he needed to step up for his team in that way,” Dantas said. “If you needed three goals, he would work his butt off to give you three goals. … Whatever Baltimore needed, he contributed.”

Since he was a teenager, Roque has relished the pressure of being the person to deliver in the highest-pressure moments when his team needs him most.

Roque first came to the United States from Sao Paolo, Brazil, as a 13-year-old in 2001. He knew almost no English except for the numbers one through ten and a few colors, he said. But that mattered little when he got on the soccer field for Florida’s Monarch High School.

He recalled at the time asking his coach to take the final penalty kick in a playoff game against a heavily favored rival. He bagged the goal and the win. More than 20 years later, Roque still steps up in those moments.

“I love pressure. I live for that,” Roque said. “When we go to other cities and everybody is against us … I just love it. The more they go against us, the better we play.”

A torn ACL in the 2017-18 season caused Roque to miss the rest of that season and the entirety of the next. When he returned in 2019-20, he was on track for another dominant season with 10 goals and nine assists in 13 games, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced the rest of that season and all of the shortened 2021 season to be canceled for the Blast.

For nearly two years, Roque stayed fit by playing beach soccer and footvolley in Florida. He also traveled to countries like Russia and Brazil to compete in tournaments. Those reps kept him ready for the indoor season, he said.

This year was Roque’s first chance to shine for a full season since his injury. His 13 assists were the most since his second season. He also led the team with 118 shots and four power-play goals.

“To have that little bit of selfishness around the box, that’s what makes good strikers,” said Bascome, adding that what makes Roque so invaluable is his unselfishness. “The sharing, and his development and maturity, it’s been amazing.”

Despite his eye-popping stats, Roque still defers to his teammates when asked what propelled him to a career year.

“The team. It’s always the team,” he said. “They are there to make me better.”

Such modesty shouldn’t be surprising coming from Roque. After all, for him, the Blast’s success matters more than the goals.

Photo Credit: Sabina Moran

Issue 274: April/May 2022

Brooks DuBose

See all posts by Brooks DuBose. Follow Brooks DuBose on Twitter at @b3dubose