Rookie Simon storms into Blast picture

October 08, 1990|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Evening Sun Staff

PORTLAND, Maine -- It was a rookie's dream and nightmare.

Chris Simon, the Blast's fourth-round draft choice from James Madison, already had scored one goal. And now, with 3:21 left, he had a chance to put the game away.

The bad news is, Simon didn't finish the play. The good news is it was just a preseason game against the St. Louis Storm in this New England city, colorfully dressed in autumn leaves.

But Simon says he'll remember the goal he missed more than the one he scored.

"I learned a lot about the Major Soccer League, the indoor game and about myself today [yesterday]," he said later. "I learned the real thing is a whole lot faster than practice, that I've got some things to work on, like defense, and that the guys who are going to be defending me have a whole lot more experience than I have."

Still, if a rookie of the game had been named in the 5-4 overtime loss to St. Louis, Simon certainly would have been it.

He gave the Blast a 3-2 lead in the third quarter, off an assist from Mike Reynolds. And then, late in the fourth, he had a chance to put the Blast up 5-3.

Defender Mike Stankovic gave him an outlet pass at midfield. Simon took it, lobbed it over St. Louis goalkeeper Zoltan Toth at the red line, and then headed toward the open net down the left sideline.

"I thought I was going to get it," Simon said. "But that guy, that St. Louis defender [Thompson Usiyan], just kept chasing me. Just I was about to head it, he nudged me just a bit, but it was enough to throw me off line."

When Simon missed the goal, he reacted the way rookies do. He threw himself to the floor and entertained the crowd of 2,712 with a demonstration of disbelief. Meanwhile, play went quickly the other way.

After a two-minute barrage, the Storm's Brian Schmetzer tied the game and with 3:49 gone in overtime, Bobo Lucic scored his second goal of the night for the victory.

"Overall, he played pretty well," Blast midfielder Richard Chinapoo said of Simon. "I got on him in the first half, because he was slow. But he picked up the intensity and his work rate in the second half and it paid off. You can see he has good skills."

Overall, Blast coach Kenny Cooper said he was pleased with the first exhibition. He used the game to find out a number of things.

* How the goal, 30 percent bigger this season, would affect play.

* How the 15-foot gap between the ballhandler and the defender on free kicks would open up the game.

* And how a three-line rotation would work with a mix of veterans, rookies and second-year players.

On the last point, Cooper was happy to see that old combinations -- such as Billy Ronson (one goal, one assist) and Bruce Savage (one assist), and Ronson and Rusty Troy (one goal) -- still work. He was equally glad to learn that new lines like Mike Stankovic, Chinapoo and Simon also click.

"Being on a line with Richard and Mike, I think that gave Chris confidence," said Cooper. "We're creating a lot of chances. Simon made an impact as a big, strong player. Joey Barger played fine. The only disappointment is Chris Haywood's injury."

Haywood, the Blast's No. 1 draft choice from Old Dominion University, was playing well when he slipped on the wet, slick carpet in the second quarter and sprained his ankle.

Team trainer Marty McGinty said it is a mild sprain, but added he does not think Haywood will be able to play tonight in Springfield, Mass., where the Storm and Blast meet in a rematch at 7:05 p.m.

As for the enlarged goals, the Blast defense with goalkeeper Scott Manning in the net seemed not to notice. But the 15-foot margin on the free kick was something else.

"If St. Louis had been sharp, they would have killed us," Savage said. "At 15 feet, we can't close them down. I think a whole lot more thought is going to have to go into what we do on those. That distance is going to be more costly than the size of the goal."

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