For the sixth time this season, the Baltimore Blast had the chance to improve its record to better than .500. But Baltimore came up short, losing in overtime, 8-7, to the St. Louis Storm yesterday.
"This kills you," Blast defender Doug Neely said. "We just let them win it. We had our chances, but we didn't get it done and we're starting to run out of time."
It was another high-scoring game, in which the Blast and Storm took turns in the lead. It was a game in which the crowd of 8,343 could get caught up.
But when St. Louis defender John Klein took a rebound off the boards with 1 minute, 4 seconds gone in overtime and high-kicked it into the back of the net for the winning goal, more than one Blast player felt responsible.
Klein simply felt blessed.
"My eyes opened real wide," he said. "I was just in the right place at the right time."
For the Blast, an 8-7 loss is less than a work of art. The team, after all, has been built on defense.
"We let in some bad goals," Blast defender Iain Fraser said. "Now we've got to go out and win our next three. We've just got to put away our chances."
One that got away came less than a minute into overtime, when forward Rusty Troy (two goals, one assist) found himself with the ball in the box, facing an empty net. He shot, but somehow, from out of nowhere, St. Louis defender Mark Frederickson blocked it.
"We were looking at these four home games as a chance to go two over .500 before we hit the road," Troy said. "Now we have to win here next Sunday, just to get back to .500."
Midfielder Kevin Sloan (one goal), who played hard all day, barely missed the game-winner in regulation when his shot caught the crossbar. Forward Rod Castro did the same.
Fraser, an All-Star defender, had his hands full with Preki (two goals, three assists) in the second half.
Preki, a midfielder whom Blast coach Kenny Cooper describes as the Magic Johnson of the game, made Fraser virtually ineffective with a series of moves that ended with a cross-court shot for a 7-6 St. Louis lead with 7:07 to play.
The Blast saw leads of 3-1 and 4-2 disappear, and added to the Storm's rally when defender David Eise inadvertently scored for the Storm.
Eise was attempting to pass the ball to goalkeeper Cris Vaccaro and out of trouble, but the ball took an unexpected bounce off the carpet, and Eise's foot got farther under it than he had anticipated.
He watched helplessly, as the ball sailed over Vaccaro and into the net for an "own goal." It allowed St. Louis to begin a rally from a 3-1 deficit.
"It was a fluke and it was disappointing," Eise said. "But we still should have won the game."
The Blast had more than enough chances, as did St. Louis. But as Cooper pointed out, the Blast seems to suffer from each of its misdeeds. "We're still fighting our 1-4 start of the season," Cooper said. "We're constantly fighting it. It keeps staring us in the face. Right now it's the difference between being in second and being in fourth place."
The Blast goes into the All-Star break with a 12-13 record, 1 1/2 games ahead of the fifth-place Tacoma Stars in the battle for the final playoff spot.
"We lose as a team and we win as a team," Cooper said. "I've told the whole team that each of them has to concentrate and lift his game. We've got to come through when the game is on the line. We just can't wait any longer."
Even more troubling for Baltimore may be the fact that it has allowed St. Louis, the Major Soccer League coaches' preseason pick to win the championship, s new life.
The Storm, 9-16, is in last place, but yesterday's victory had coach Don Popovic and his players talking about their playoff chances.
"I don't know if we can catch San Diego," defender Fernando Clavijo said. "But we've certainly got a good chance at making the playoffs. This was a big victory for us, because we've been struggling and this will bring our confidence back."
NOTES: Scott Manning, formerly of the Blast, said last night that he is keeping his options open in regard to the Wichita goalkeeping job. The position became available Saturday night when the Wings' Kris Peat suffered a hyper-extended left elbow and pulled the tendon away from the bone in his left arm. . . . The next Blast home game will be Sunday at 4:05 p.m. against the Crunch. It was scheduled originally for 6 p.m. There are 3,000 tickets available. . . . The college all-stars begin arriving today for Thursday's USAir College Indoor Showcase, which will be held at 5:05 p.m. and be followed by the MSL All-Star Game at 8 p.m. The MSL stars will begin arriving tomorrow.
St. Louis 0 3 1 3 1 -- 8
Baltimore 1 3 1 2 0 -- 7
First quarter--1 Bal. Neely 4 (Castro), 4:32. Penalties--None.
Second quarter--2 St. L. Doran 14 (Preki), 1:04; 3 Bal. Troy 12 (Mobilio), 5:06; 4 Bal. Mettrick 12 (Fraser), 5:51; 5 St.L. Preki 26 (Unassisted), 6:36; 6 St.L. Hundelt 6 (Muhr), 13:41; 7 Bal. Troy 13 (Kazemaini), 14:06. Penalties--None.
Third quarter--8 St.L. Hundelt 7 (Preki), 3:42; 9 Bal. Castro 12 (Unassisted), 11:12. Penalties--None.
Fourth quarter--10 St.L. Frederickson 4 (Preki), 1:36; 11 Bal. Sloan 4 ( Mobilio), 5:08; 12 St.L. Segota 32 (Unassisted), 5:19; 13 St.L. Preki 27 ( Hundelt), 7:53; 14 Bal. (PP) Castro 13 (Troy), 12:25. Penalties--Segota, St.L., (Holding), 10:51.
Overtime--15 St.L. Klein 5 (Ingram), 1:04. Penalties--None. Shots on goal--St. Louis 9-13-6-10-2--40; Baltimore--5-11-11-6-2-- 35. Saves--St. Louis, Gorsek 19; Baltimore, Vaccaro 20, Fraser 0. Referees--Herb Silva, Kelly Mock, Bill Lohr. A--8,343.
MSL All-Star Week
USAir College Indoor Showcase: Baltimore Arena, 5:05 p.m.; participants from local colleges are Loyola D Tom Donohue, Towson M Ed McCue, Towson F Joe Layfield and UMBC F Jason Dieter.
MSL All-Star Game: Baltimore Arena, 8:05 p.m.; Blast participants are G Cris Vaccaro, D Iain Fraser, D Doug Neely, F Domenic Mobilio and M Mark Mettrick.
Radio: WCAO (600 AM)
Tickets: 2,800 available. Call (410) 327-2100.
MSL draft: Stouffer Harborplace Hotel. Admission is free.