Parity in the Major Soccer League is taking its toll on the Blast. Last night, the team staggered into St. Louis saddled with a seven-game road losing streak and the knowledge it is tied for fifth place in the league standings -- one spot removed from a playoff berth.
"Everyone beats everyone else in this league," said Blast coach Kenny Cooper. "It's unbelievable. We've got nine games to go. Nine games to prove this team isn't like last year's team."
Last year, the Blast missed the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. It missed out because it couldn't put away its chances and lost 20 of 28 one-goal games.
Sunday's 5-4 loss in Tacoma dropped the Blast's record to 14-17 and into a tie with the Cleveland Crunch. Baltimore is a half-game behind the Wichita Wings, the team that scratched out the last playoff spot at the Blast's expense a year ago, in the battle for fourth place.
Comparisons between this season and last season were not far from a lot of minds, but Cooper says it is the differences that stand out to him, not the similarities.
"This team isn't like last year's team, but having said that, we have to prove it," Cooper said.
"We're not putting our chances away. But the difference is, last year, that team would get down on itself, get its head down. I, literally, had to pull players up one by one. This team does it for itself.
"They felt bad after the loss in Tacoma, but today [yesterday] they're bright and ready to go. Adversity is easier to handle as a team. Last year, we lost as a group of individuals. This year, we're a team."
Against Tacoma, the Blast saw a 2-1 lead evaporate in the second quarter, when opportunities to go up by two goals went unrewarded.
By the end of the third period, the two sides had played to a 3-3 tie, but Tacoma asserted itself in the fourth, streaking ahead 5-3, forcing the Blast to use a sixth attacker.
Defender Mark Mettrick, who with Rod Castro, Iain Fraser and Doug Neely have been the team's most consistent performers, scored the Blast's fourth goal, rekindling memories of last Thursday's 8-5 victory over Wichita. In that game, Mettrick had two big fourth-quarter goals that made sure the Blast would not lose at home.
But history did not repeat itself in Tacoma. In the closing minutes, bullet-like shots by Ali Kazemaini and Domenic Mobilio were stopped by Tacoma goalkeeper Mike Dowler and the crossbar.
The Blast was playing without starting goalkeeper Cris Vaccaro (flu), but rookie Steve Powers, who was shelled in an 8-1 loss at San Diego on Saturday, played well enough to win Sunday, Cooper said.
"Steve played brilliantly and made some great saves, but he's still learning the game and, at times, his inexperience showed," said Cooper. "Obviously, we missed Vaccaro, but Steve played well and he should have been a winner in Tacoma."
Cooper said Vaccaro will rejoin the team today and probably will play Thursday against the Storm.
"Everything is on the line in the next nine games," said Cooper. "It's something I want us to be aware of, but not intimidated by. It all comes down to scoring more goals. What can I do about that? All I can do is encourage my players to be positive. . . . The one thing I don't want is for it to become a mental thing. The way I look at it, we're creating chances and the team has a desire to improve."
Cooper said he will hold daily workouts and the team will study game films of the Storm over the next three days.