Is this all there is to the Blast?
The Blast, so used to first place in the Major Soccer League's Eastern Division, can't seem to get a handle on it this season.
Everyone has been patient. Everyone has a ready excuse: they're young, they're adjusting to different players, it takes time for a premier player like Dale Mitchell to fit into the mix, the goals are bigger, the game is a different game, injuries have taken a toll, conditioning is not what it should be . . .
Half the season is history and still the Blast is 1 1/2 games out of first. That's the good news. It's in the hunt. Problem is the Blast doesn't deserve to be.
This club is 16-15, with 21 games to play. To win the division, says Blast coach Kenny Cooper, it must go 14-7, beginning tomorrow night against the Cleveland Crunch.
So far, the Blast has done very little to generate much belief in its ability to go 14-7. Even Cooper, the eternal optimist admitted, "We've got a hell of a lot of playing to do."
The coach says there is nothing wrong with this team that can't be fixed. He may be right. But the most difficult thing about this edition of the Blast is putting a finger on just what is wrong.
"It's not one individual, it's all of us making bad decisions at different times that cost us," said Blast All-Star defender Bruce Savage. "We've been together long enough, we should be playing better."
Sometimes, the Blast looks like the indoor version of World Cup champion West Germany. Other times, it looks like an also-ran in a Saturday morning league at Myers Pavilion.
Sometimes, it makes the opposition blink in disbelief with unfathomable shots that turn into mesmerizing goals, and sometimes this team makes its fans long for last season's team, or the one the year before.
"This team wants to win," said Cooper. "But you've got to do what it takes and it's not physical, it's mental. We've got the tools; it's up to me to squeeze it out of them."
The question is, is he squeezing a lemon?
When the Blast gets a lead, it doesn't always play smart.
Up 8-2 against Wichita, some Blast players decided it was time to go forward and perhaps pad their own stats, which allowed the Wings to come within 8-6 before the Blast finally won 9-6. That fact emerged during a private team meeting this week, which supposedly cleared the air and has everyone in step to go for broke to the end of the season.
Certainly, the performance has to improve from last Saturday, when up 3-1 against San Diego, the Blast became so lax it blundered its way to another loss to the defending champion Sockers.
Instead of playing patient, ball-control soccer and making the Sockers do the chasing, the Blast became the impatient, careless team, eventually losing, 7-5. The winning goalkeeper, rookie Savva Biller, had had all of five days indoor experience and spent most of the night asking his teammates about the rules.
Blast forward Rusty Troy termed the charade embarrassing.
"We've blown opportunity after opportunity," Troy said. "We were three over .500, in first place, winning on the road -- and then, there it is again."
Inconsistency. And the Blast has it in abundance.
"Our problem is no team defense," Troy said. "We've got no defensive pride in the games we lose."
Inconsistency, poor decision making, defensive lapses and 21 games to play. Twenty-one games to find out if this team has a division title in it or whether what it has shown so far is all there is: just a near .500 team that makes everyone long for yesterday.
VS. CLEVELAND CRUNCH
* WHEN: Tomorrow, 7:35 p.m.
* WHERE: The Arena.
* RADIO: WCAO-AM 600.
* OUTLOOK: The Blast (16-15) needs a victory. The team that shared first place with Kansas City a little more than a week ago thanks to a three-game winning streak has now lost two straight and is 1 1/2 games back.
The Crunch (12-18) has won three straight and four of its last five. Under coach Trevor Dawkins, Cleveland is 5-4, 5-3 in January.
The Blast is without Angelo Panzetta (left knee surgery) for the rest of the season. Cleveland will be without Joe Koziol (strained left hamstring) and Rudy Pikuzinski (strep throat).