Just having Harbor on field alters Blast Home debut comes tomorrow

November 29, 1991|By Bill Free

Sure, it was just one game, and Jean Harbor played only 14 minutes.

But from the moment Harbor stepped onto the field Saturday against the Cleveland Crunch, he seemed to transform the Baltimore Blast from a team that was trying not to lose to a team that was expecting to win.

Even the Crunch seemed to be affected by the presence of this hulking, 6-foot-2, 195-pound player.

"Cleveland was a little afraid of Jean," said Blast coach Kenny Cooper. "A lot of players in the league have either played against Jean outdoors or they've heard about him, and they respect his tremendous skills. They don't really know what to expect indoors."

Cleveland, which held a 3-0 lead early in the second quarter, when Harbor made his Major Soccer League debut, never got another goal.

Baltimore scored six straight goals to win on the road for only the second time since Jan. 4.

Harbor was on the floor when two of the Blast goals were scored, getting an assist on Mark Mettrick's third-quarter goal that broke up the Cleveland shutout.

It was an auspicious indoor start for the 26-year-old Nigerian.

Blast defender Doug Neely said: "Jean did great. He brings an intimidation factor to the game because he's so big. He gives us a boost because of his skills. He can hold the ball out front for us or play in the penalty box."

Not too bad for a player who said he still is trying to understand indoor soccer and doesn't feel comfortable on the floor.

"It's hard for me to tell if I played well or not in my first game," Harbor said this week. "I have to feel comfortable and understand the game before I can express myself out there. I don't think I did that good."

Harbor said he is still not in top condition after a two-month layoff since the end of the Maryland Bays season, and is struggling to learn how to stay with his man on defense.

Tonight against the Wichita Wings in Wichita, Kan., and tomorrow night at the Baltimore Arena against the St. Louis Storm, Harbor will continue his adjustment to the indoor game.

He will be playing his first home game for the Blast tomorrow night and is aware of the high expectations.

"I have to live up to those expectations," said Harbor. "But I hope people don't ask too much of me too soon. This is not an easy game to pick up overnight."

Harbor expects to become a U.S. citizen early next year, after which coach Bora Milutinovic wants him to begin training with the U.S. national team. Harbor comes to the Blast with a big goal-scoring reputation -- his 17 goals led the Bays and the American Professional Soccer League last season -- but he continues to prove in practice and in the one game that he is equally adept at giving the ball up to teammates for assists.

On the play in which he assisted on Mettrick's goal, Harbor could have cranked up and shot one of his rockets. But he got the ball to an open Mettrick.

"Mark was in a much better position to score than I was," said Harbor. "I'm not coming in here just to score goals. The important thing is to help us win games. I'll do whatever it takes to win."

Harbor will be able to join the Blast full time Monday, as his two weeks' notice to his Rockville employers will be up.

He said a lot of his friends were surprised he decided to take a leave of absence from his job as a chemist to join the Blast.

"But I told them I'm doing something I love to do," said Harbor. "Soccer has been a part of my life for a long time."

NOTES: Cooper said he would use Harbor as a target man this weekend on a line with M Kevin Sloan and M Emil Dragicevic. The Harbor line will back up the first two lines. The first line is composed of target man Rod Castro, M Billy Ronson and M Rusty Troy, and the second line has Domenic Mobilio as the target man along with M Mike Stankovic and M Joe Koziol.

Blast tonight

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Opponent: Wichita Wings

Site: Kansas Coliseum, 8:35

Radio: WCAO (600 AM)

Outlook: This is Baltimore's second trip to Wichita this season. The Blast lost the first game, 8-6, despite 3 goals by F Domenic Mobilio. However, the Blast has won 2 straight and is coming off its second road victory (6-3 over Cleveland on Saturday) since last Jan. 4. Mobilio (11-3--14) had an 11-game goal-scoring streak that was stopped in the 6-3 win over the Crunch, but is still the runaway scoring leader on the team. M Mike Stankovic (groin strain) is questionable for the Blast. Wichita is coming off a 5-2 overtime loss to the San Diego Sockers. F Dale Ervine (13-11--24) and M Chico Borja (8-7--15) lead the Wings.

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