When the Blast was building its team last summer, defense was the first priority. And just how much success Blast coach Kenny Cooper had in picking that defense is starting to show. For two straight weeks, goalkeeper Cris Vaccaro was the Major Soccer League Defender of the Week. Now, the Blast has made it three straight. This time, defender Iain Fraser has earned the honor.
Fraser held Cleveland's Zoran Karic and Dallas' Tatu goal-less on back-to-back nights as the Blast lost to Cleveland, 5-4, and beat Dallas, 6-2.
Unlike Vaccaro, who has had close to 10 such awards, Fraser said he has had "a whole whopping one" in the past.
But this is not the first time Fraser has fared well against the league's biggest scorers. Nor is it the first time he has shut out Tatu. A year ago, playing for the Kansas City Comets, Fraser also shut out the Sidekicks' leading scorer. That was Nov. 23, two days after former Blast defender Bruce Savage had managed the same feat here.
When Fraser shut out Tatu Saturday, it was the first time Tatu had suffered back-to-back shutouts since those November 1990 games. This time, Wichita's Tommy Soehn blanked him Friday.
"It's very difficult to play against Tatu, because you can't say he's best at any one thing," said Fraser. "If you get too tight on him, he'll turn on you. If you stay back and let him dribble right at you, he'll simply beat you with his speed. To me, the most important thing you need when you're marking him is concentration. You've got to always be aware of where he is."
Fraser tries to give him a little room, but not too much. He watches him set up, then relies on his own quickness to cover Tatu's move. Obviously it works.
* AN OFFENSIVE STAR: Cleveland's Michael King, who scored four goals on five shots against the Blast Friday, earned the MSL Offensive Player of the Week award. King had the Crunch's first three goals, all in the first half, and then scored the game-winner with 36 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
* A NEW ADDRESS: The MSL has moved its offices to the 21st floor of the Bank of Baltimore building. It is the fifth time league offices have moved. Originally set in Philadelphia (1978-1985), the MSL moved to Chicago (1986), then New York (1986-88) and then Kansas City (1988-91), before packing the moving vans for Baltimore Street.
* OFF THE PACE: Tatu, who led the league in scoring last season, is well off the pace this time around. A year ago after 12 games, he had 19 goals, 18 assists for 37 points. This season at the same point, he has 12 goals, 12 assists for 24 points. This year the Sidekicks are 6-6, compared with 5-7 a year ago.
* ROOKIE GETS FIRST: Dallas rookie Jeff Agoos scored the league's first short-handed goal of the season Friday. It took 32 games for someone to do it.
* GOALS ON RISE: Scoring in the MSL continues to rise. A year ago, when the league expanded the goal mouth, the average went from 8.06 a game to 10.93. The increase has continued this season. After 32 games, the average number of goals per game is up to 11.47 -- just a half-goal off the league's all-time high of 11.99 in its first year, 1978-79.
* WHERE'S BRUCE? The interview was over when Cleveland's Kai Haaskivi called a reporter back to ask, "Where's Bruce? Where's Bruce?" Bruce, of course, is the Blast's former MSL All-Star defender Bruce Savage, who left this year to join the U.S. National Team.
"I kept looking for Bruce," Haaskivi said, shaking his head. "This is the first time since 1984 that I've played here and not been hounded by Bruce. It's weird. He always had this place staked out on the carpet. When I'd go into the corner, there would be Bruce -- and then Scott Manning [former Blast goalkeeper] would crowd in. I'm 36 and I've seen most players come and go, but somehow, I always thought Bruce and Scott would always be there."
* OUT OF THIS WORLD: In a futuristic view in The Washington Post last Friday, Mike Freeman suggested the NFL toss the American Football Conference and let it merge with the MSL. It was a joke. But maybe the AFC should consider some kind of working relationship, given the kicking problems suffered by several AFC teams. Actually, it has possibilities. The AFC could have access to better kickers and the MSL could have access to major cities -- and that long-dreamed of national television contract. How would it work? Details, details. That's what they pay people big bucks to figure out.