The Blast's turnaround can be linked to the arrival of Jean Harbor and the departure of Waad Hirmez, but it shouldn't be limited to that.
A four-game winning streak has transformed a shaky 1-4 start into a solid 5-4 record that has the Blast one game out of first place in the Major Soccer League. Before this week, the Blast hadn't seen a four-game winning streak in two years.
It has one now for four basic reasons:
* An attacking offense that features three lines.
* A revised lineup that matches players to their strengths.
* A growing familiarity among the 16 players, 11 of whom are new to the Blast this season.
* The signing of Harbor and the release of Hirmez.
"Waad is a nice guy," said midfielder Emil Dragicevic. "It is only that his style of play did not match the style that is best for this team. Jean Harbor has come in and fit in, because he is able to play the way we play."
The addition of Harbor, who played brilliantly outdoors for the Maryland Bays, has allowed coach Kenny Cooper to establish three lines: Harbor, Kevin Sloan and Dragicevic; Rod Castro, Rusty Troy and Billy Ronson; Domenic Mobilio, Joe Koziol and Mike Stankovic.
While the Blast's turnaround started with an 8-7 victory at home against San Diego on Nov. 16, it didn't get into full swing until its game in Cleveland on Nov. 23. That's when Harbor joined the team for the first time and the Blast unveiled its high-octane offense.
The three-line concept gives the Blast the ability to attack at fullspeed the entire game. The front players -- the forwards and midfielders -- play only a minute and a half on each shift.
"All of it depends on how much each of us is willing to put into it," said midfielder Mike Stankovic. "Players are realizing that 60 minutes is a long, long time and now, because we're winning, everyone is willing to do what is needed to make it work."
The shorter shift means a three-minute break before the players return to the field, which is keeping them fresher.
"When we arrived in Wichita last week, the papers were full of stories about how the Wings were in great condition and how guys like Dale Ervine and Chico Borja were tracking back on defense," said Troy.
"In the end, Wichita couldn't live with us," said Ronson of the Blast's 7-5 victory.
Added Troy, "They were so tired, they couldn't go forward when they got the ball. Our style now adds a new dimension. Opposing teams expect us to come into their buildings and sit back and counterattack. Instead, we're driving the ball down the field throughout the game."
Cooper started tinkering with his lineup before the streak.
"If we had had four exhibition games, we could have sorted this out before the season," he said. "But as it was, I felt more like a scientist than a coach, trying to mix and match the proper blends."
The players were struggling, too.
"We're finally getting to know where each other wants the ball," said Blast defender Doug Neely. "I had never played with Dom or Mike Stankovic before and I didn't know where they liked to receive the ball. Now I do. Now we have five guys on every line working hard as a unit. I think it's remarkable that it has gone together this quickly."
Castro thinks the last four games are indicative of what is to come.
"We haven't won because of any flukes," he said. "We haven't won because we've been lucky or because another team has had a nightmare. We've won because we've played better . . . We've got a very good chance for a championship."
Castro may not be the only player thinking that, but he is the only one saying it at this point. Cooper says Castro "is exactly right."
* Cleveland released Soviet Viatcheslav Lendel yesterday and will add a player to its roster by 3:30 p.m. Friday. Speculation is the Crunch will sign a defender, possibly Bernie James, who is likely to be in uniform for Friday's game here against the Blast.
Average age on MSL teams
TACOMA.. .. .. . 30.2
CLEVELAND .. .. .. .. 30.1
ST. LOUIS .. .. .. .. 29.6
SAN DIEGO .. .. .. .. 28.7
DALLAS .. .. .. .. .. 28.2
WICHITA .. .. .. .. . 27.5
BLAST.. .. .. .. .. . 27.1
Average experience on MSL teams
TACOMA.. .. .. . 7.13 years
DALLAS .. .. .. .. .. 6.12
ST.LOUIS. .. .. .. .. 5.81
CLEVELAND .. .. .. .. 5.38
SAN DIEGO .. .. .. .. 5.06
WICHITA.. .. .. .. .. 4.93
BLAST. .. .. .. .. .. 3.90