Blast must answer three key questions

MSL Notebook

February 26, 1992|By Sandra McKee

If Las Vegas had set odds on the Blast's making the playoffs, it probably would be taking a long, hard look at revising them. The oddsmakers would be asking themselves three questions:

* Does the Blast have any luck at crunch time?

* Will the Blast be haunted by former goalkeeper Scott Manning?

* Does the Blast have a consistent "go-to" guy?

The answers, after back-to-back road losses at St. Louis and Wichita last weekend, appear to be no, maybe and no.

Baltimore was in position to make a stand in St. Louis, where the Storm is struggling to get out of last place, and in Wichita, where the Wings had lost five straight before Sunday's double-overtime victory.

Now, instead of being solidly in third with a 15-13 record, the Blast is 13-15 and in fifth. If this seems better than seventh, it isn't.

In the Major Soccer League, there are seven teams, and four of them go to the playoffs. There are five teams within 2 1/2 games of one another, battling for three of the four spots. San Diego (20-7) just about has assured itself of the top seed. The Sockers' magic number to clinch a playoff spot is six, and their magic number to clinch the regular-season championship is seven.

The Blast has 12 games to make the playoffs.

While one-goal games have turned to the Blast's advantage (6-5) -- the club was 8-20 in such games last season -- the team constantly flirts with disaster in must-win situations.

Tomorrow, it will face the Wings and Manning again.

The former Blast goalkeeper always has played big in big games. Sunday, when the Wings battled back to beat the Blast in double overtime, Manning got bigger and luckier as the pressure mounted.

Now, he's coming to the Arena to play for a team other than the Blast for the first time in 10 years. Does anyone think he's not inspired?

Will the Blast have a go-to guy tomorrow when it matters? The oddsmakers are watching and doubting.

*

Offensive wonder: Wichita's Chico Borja, who broke the Blast's heart Sunday when he scored the double-overtime game-winner, is the MSL's Offensive Player of the Week. Borja had four goals and seven assists in three games last week. For the season, he has 22 goals, 37 assists for 59 points in 24 games.

*

Otto, Otto, Otto: That's what they're going to start chanting in Cleveland if backup goalkeeper Otto Orf keeps doing what he's been doing. Orf, in the process of ousting P.J. Johns as the starter, earned MSL Defensive Player of the Week honors by leading the Crunch to three straight victories. Orf, 4-13 in each of the past two seasons, is hot. He made 37 saves on 82 shots last week, allowing 14 goals for a 4.67 goals-against average. He is 5-2 this season with a 4.98 GAA.

*

Lightning strike: Blast midfielder Kevin Sloan and St. Louis midfielder Branko Segota teamed for the fastest two goals in MSL history Friday. Sloan and Segota scored within one second of each other.

*

The only one: Dallas' Joe Papaleo became the MSL's first goalkeeper this season to hold an opposing team to one goal. Papaleo gave up a goal to Mark Karpun in the second quarter, but made 17 saves on 26 shots Saturday for a 4-1 Sidekicks victory. There has yet to be a shutout this season.

*

Parting shots: While waiting 13 more years for the MSL to get around to returning the All-Star "festivities" to Baltimore, one question keeps popping up. Why did the Blast want to have it in the first place?

"For our fans" was the yearly battle cry. But when the All-Stars finally arrived in town, they might as well have stayed in Philadelphia, for all the good it did local fans.

Every practice was closed. And while there was an evening cruise, relaxed and enjoyable despite the harsh weather, there was no formal honoring of the players' achievements.

It might have been just another game -- except the game itself was brilliant. Even in Daytona Beach, Fla., at the Halftime Sports Pub, where owner and former Annapolis resident Richard Harrington turned on SportsChannel America, patrons turned occasionally to watch the game that set 16 offensive records.

Now, if the All-Star week organizers can learn to do the pre-game hoopla with the expertise the players showed on the field, the celebration at next season's event in Cleveland should be quite a show.

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