JESSUP -- Steve Powers has been on the edge of an American Professional Soccer League championship before. A year ago, he helped the Maryland Bays win their first APSL title and was named the Most Valuable Player in the playoffs.
Tomorrow, he'll be back in goal as the APSL playoffs begin with the Bays in Albany, N.Y., for a 7:35 p.m. semifinal match against the Capitals (no radio or TV). The teams will play Game 2 of the best-of-three series at Cedar Lane Park a week from Saturday at 7 p.m.
"There is a difference this time," said Powers, who had unprecedented success in the outdoor league with 17 consecutive victories stretched over the last two seasons. "Last year at this time, no one took us seriously or respected us. But this time, we're 19-2 and we're going back to defend the title. I think we've earned our respect. We've proved last year wasn't a fluke."
Everyone has taken notice.
"The Bays are playing on another planet right now," said San Francisco Bay coach Laurie Calloway, whose team will face Fort Lauderdale in the other semifinal series this weekend. "To be 19-2 is incredible. They've lived on outstanding plays by Powers, the play of Jean Harbor and the woodwork [posts and crossbar misses]. That's the difference for them."
Powers, 27, finished the regular season with six shutouts and a 1.05 goals-against average.
He started his soccer career in the Philadelphia area, playing the sport as a youth even though his father wanted him to play football. He followed that with a successful career at the University of Maryland, and won the Bays' starting job last season after two seasons as a backup.
That promotion was no small achievement, because Powers had sustained a severely dislocated shoulder the season before in a game against New Jersey. "It was a chronic problem," he said. "It would become dislocated when I was sleeping, when I threw a baseball. It seemed to me it would come out if the wind blew too hard."
It didn't stop him last season, however. He played in pain through the championship game against San Francisco, when his performance resulted in victory and his MVP award. He had surgery during the offseason and worked hard to reclaim his starting job at the beginning of this season.
The fear of failure, Powers pointed out, is never far away.
"And the fear of losing is there," he said. "But there are other things you overcome and there are accomplishments that keep you going.
"I know my dad wanted me to be a football player and I tried it during fifth grade. But they made me a lineman and . . . "
And he went back to soccer, with renewed zeal. "I loved it even more," Powers said. "Then when I broke county records in high school and got recruited by different universities and finally took the scholarship to Maryland, well, all of a sudden my dad took a new look at soccer. He could see it paying off, and so could I."
His father also recognized that it can be a contact sport.
"It is a tough game and you do have to be tough to play it," said Powers, who is 6 feet 1, 175 pounds. "You've got to do whatever it takes to keep the ball out of the net. If the defense breaks down and it's one-on-one vs. you, you know it's your job to save the shot. You can blame the situation on a defensive lapse, but what does that accomplish? It's your job to keep the ball out of the net, and that's the only important thing to remember."
Maryland Bays preview
VS. ALBANY CAPITALS
* WHEN: Tonight, 7:35 p.m.
* WHERE: Albany, N.Y.
* RADIO/TV: None.
* OUTLOOK: The Bays (19-2) have handled Albany with ease in their last two meetings, winning 5-0 and 4-1. But the Capitals are also the only team to have shut out the Bays, 3-0. In their other meeting, they took the Bays to overtime before losing 4-3. Albany is led by forward Mike Masters (seven goals, five assists), Ramiro Borja (seven goals, three assists) and goalkeeper Scoop Stanisic, who spent two seasons with the Blast. Stanisic finished with the second-best goals-against average in the APSL this season, allowing just 1.02 per game.
Bays forward Jean Harbor, APSL Player of the Year, comes into the game with 17 goals and 11 assists, and midfielder Kevin Sloan is second on the team in scoring with 14 goals and four assists.