All it takes is a quick glance at the American Professional Soccer League standings to put tomorrow's Maryland-San Francisco game at RFK Stadium into perspective.
The Bays had trailed the Blackhawks all season, until winning a pair of games last weekend against Albany. Both teams sport impressive 15-2 records -- far and away the best in the league -- but the Bays have pulled 15 points ahead in the standings thanks to a system that rewards offensive firepower. The Bays have scored 43 goals in 17 games.
But look to the right in those same standings and see San Francisco's season-long stingy defensive effort -- just 10 goals allowed in 17 games -- and the game plan immediately becomes evident.
"It comes down to whether our defense can stop their offense," said Blackhawks coach Laurie Calloway, who was ejected for coming onto the field and using abusive language in the first matchup of the teams a month ago, which his club won 3-1. "Winning the division is going to be a tall order for us even if we win the game, but our guys want this second win to set the tone for what might happen in the playoffs."
In the previous game, the Bays fell behind with 10 seconds remaining in the first half and never recovered. The key play occurred when Bays forward Jean Harbor went for a loose ball and charged into goalie Mark Daughtery, knocking him unconscious. The referees deemed the play legal and gave the Bays a corner kick, inciting a tirade from Calloway and his players.
"It was ludicrous call," said Calloway, who was accused by Bays players of using racial slurs against Harbor.
"Words were exchanged but I never said anything more than a commentary about what had transpired on the field," Calloway said.
Bays coach Gary Hindley said his team isn't seeking any sort of revenge against the Blackhawks, just a win to wrap up the Western Conference championship.
"All we want to do is play a good, clean game and come away with a win," Hindley said. "The intensity level will be high enough with pride on the line that we can't afford to make mistakes against this team. We made some mistakes in Albany last week that would have killed us against this team. They are just that talented."
Hindley went even further in his appraisal of what the game and the rivalry means to the APSL and to American soccer.
"These are the teams that played for the championship last year," Hindley said. "I can't remember another league game that could have the intensity and hard play that this one could have. Just the quality of players out there alone dictates that. This will not be another 5-0 game. As a matter of fact, I can't see this being more than a one-goal game."
There are potentially eight U.S. National team players that could be on the field at once -- five Blackhawks and two Bays, plus Harbor, a Nigerian, who is getting a strong look from the squad but needs to obtain citizenship. Like Bays Desmond Armstrong and Bruce Murray, forward Jeff Agoos also is a member of the team, but is out with a broken foot he sustained last weekend in Albany.