Coaches in the Major Soccer League have installed the Blast as the team to beat going into the season.
The Blast received five first-place votes and 27 points to rank first in the Eastern Division. The defending champion San Diego Sockers received four first-place votes and 24 points to rank first in the West, but second overall to Baltimore.
Points were awarded on a 4-3-2-1 basis for first-, second-, third- and fourth-place finishes, respectively.
The Sockers and St. Louis tied for first in the West, but San Diego was given the nod because it had four first-place votes to St. Louis' three. Dallas was picked to finish third with 19 points and Tacoma last with 13, even with one first-place vote.
Cleveland was picked second in the East with one first and 22 points overall. Wichita edged Kansas City, 16-15, for third, because of two first-place votes.
The Blast opens the season in Wichita Saturday night (8:35, WCAO-AM 600).
* An MSL rule requiring teams to open the season with "18 pro players under contract" has added another wrinkle to the Tim Wittman saga.
Wittman, who has failed two Blast physicals because of a degenerative disk in his back, is not currently under contract, although the Blast had planned to make him a part of its opening roster.
Blast owner Ed Hale has asked MSL commissioner Earl Foreman to make a special ruling to allow the Blast to carry 17 players until Wittman is healthy, The Sun reported today.
* Former Blast midfielder/defender Freddie Thompson signed with Tacoma last night. Stars coach Steve Weller said the 25-year-old, five-year veteran will provide depth and additional scoring punch. Thompson had a career-best 37 points (18 goals, 19 assists) with the Blast last season.