Maybe a shot of Billy Ronson nastiness is exactly what the Blast needs tonight, in Game 2 of its Major Soccer League best-of-seven semifinal series with the San Diego Sockers.
Like the Blast's chances of making these playoffs, Ronson's chances of coming back from knee surgery in time to make the postseason tournament were not exactly good.
But the Blast is playing tonight and so, too, is Ronson, who turned three to six weeks of anticipated recovery time into less than two.
"Billy's a little menace, a nagger," Blast goalkeeper Cris Vaccaro said with delight. "I don't know anyone who enjoys playing against him. I never did. The attitude around the league is he's a dirty, little player. He's physical for his size, he nit-picks everything and he is always in your face or in your way. With Billy coming back, we get more than just another body."
Wednesday, in Game 1 at San Diego, the Blast played a nearly perfect game only to lose, 5-4, as it deflected three balls into its own net.
"No one individual was to blame for our losing," said Ronson, who played only in the last 1:40, when he came in as a sixth attacker. "You have to give San Diego credit for coming back and winning. What we see is that we made a game of it. No one thought we'd get here, and once we got here, everyone thought we'd be blown out. And we weren't."
Ronson had knee surgery March 23 to repair a ruptured biceps tendon and a tear in the lateral meniscus cartilage.
"The team and me both got into this series through the back door, and now we've got a chance to win the whole thing," Ronson said. "But we've got to win this game, and then go home and take care of business. I'm really looking forward to getting out there and being my nasty self."
The Blast played a team-oriented defense on Wednesday. But in the fourth quarter, Thompson Usiyan broke through for two goals. Usiyan said the Blast tired, and it was simply "a matter of time until they cracked."
Ronson's return could be an answer to that. He gives the Blast a sixth midfielder, which should shorten shifts. Perhaps more importantly, his return gives the Blast a veteran on a young team. He has been through two championship series against the Sockers and knows what to expect.
"Billy takes some weight off us," Blast coach Kenny Cooper said. "He has been in this series, he knows how to score big goals and his experience can only help."
Cooper also pinpointed four areas in which the Blast needs to improve in tonight's game against the Sockers:
* The Blast has to tighten up and be more physical in the corners, when San Diego has a free kick.
* When the Sockers turn up the pressure, the Blast defense has to push out from the goal and close down the Sockers before they get to the point where they can slide a ball through the box and have it deflected into the net.
* The Blast must extend its concentration through 60 minutes and close down San Diego's passing lanes late in the game.
* The team has to find a way to beat Sockers goalkeeper Victor Nogueira.
"We're not going to do it with power," Cooper said. "I've been around long enough to know it isn't going to be a special shot. It's going to take second and third efforts."