No one plays defense in the Major Soccer League better than the Blast's Bruce Savage. He can shut out Tatu, the league's leading scorer, with regularity. He can shut down Preki, the second-leading goal scorer, almost at will.
But tomorrow, he runs up against his Achilles' heel: San Diego midfielder Branko Segota.
At the moment, Segota is everyone's nightmare. One of the hottest players on one of the hottest teams in the MSL, he has six goals and nine assists in his last 15 games. It is power soccer on a power team.
Players like Segota, Jan Goossens of Kansas City and Karic of Cleveland -- the physical, elbow-throwing, hip-slinging scorers -- present a problem for Savage.
"I'm not a big, strong player," said Savage, who is listed at 5 feet 8, 150 pounds, but is probably several pounds lighter during the regular season. "If guys like Segota or Goossens or Karic get the ball, I'm at a disadvantage. If they get it, it's tough on me. The only thing I can do then is try to make them play it back [instead of forward]."
Tomorrow, Savage, who will be playing in his 136th consecutive game, will have help on the job. Defender Mark Mettrick, 5-10, 160, who grew up playing a rugged outdoor game in England, will carry much of the weight against Segota.
"Mark likes the physical contact," said Savage. "I don't think it is something he'd want to do all the time, but he likes to mix it up and I think it's good to give Segota a different look."
Segota (5-9, 160) has a strong upper body and a sharp elbow. Goossens (6-1, 185) is big and quick. Karic, 5-9, 160, also has good upper body strength and is having a career season.
They have plagued the Blast, not just this season, but for a number of seasons. That's a key reason Blast coach Kenny Cooper hoped to work a trade that would have brought Dallas defender Doc Lawson here. Lawson (6-0, 180) would have given the Blast a big, physical defender who has a proven track record against other physical players.
But that trade is cold. The Blast hoped to bring in draft choice Kris Kelderman, a 6-1 defender from the University of Virginia. But he has informed the team he will not be able to join the club because of his class schedule.
All of which means the burden is back on Savage, Mettrick and the rest of the Blast to come up big on defense.
"The trade has been a bit of a motivator," Mettrick said of the deal that would have sent Richard Chinapoo to Dallas for Lawson. "It's a reflection on the defense I play. I think I want to restrict myself going forward. I think we've been caught a few times because of it. I like to go forward, but my main job is defensive.
"I think if we can play as a collective unit, it will be the difference in our season. We're not a great team that can afford a few guys not doing it. Great teams can overcome a breakdown here and there. We can't."
Savage and Mettrick know what they have to do tomorrow. Savage will try to anticipate the play, and Mettrick will try to stop it if it gets under way.
"Bruce is so good, he stops things before they get started," Mettrick said. "If I could get one thing in my game from his, that would be what I'd take, the anticipation. It's his anticipation that makes him great.
"As for me, I have to be careful against Segota. He's so big, you can bounce off him. He sees you coming and he just flicks you off. Well, not flick, exactly, but he rolls you off his hip and he uses it to his advantage, turning the other way. And I know once he gets a yard, he's gone."