One moment, the Blast was laughing and in high spirits,
preparing for Game 3 in its Major Soccer League semifinal series against the San Diego Sockers. The next moment, its leading scorer and Most Valuable Player was a groaning lump on the carpet.
When Domenic Mobilio went down in a heap yesterday, it seemed dreams would turn to nightmares.
Blast coach Kenny Cooper, relaxing in the stands, and trainer Marty McGinty, sitting with a group of players in another part of the Myers Pavilion, reacted at the same time. McGinty leaped up and sprinted down an open stairway toward the field. Cooper leaped up, stumbled down a few stairs and fell over the retaining bar at the bottom of the aisle. He stumbled through the gate to the field and broke into a run.
L Mobilio was rolling on the carpet, reaching toward his knee.
L Cooper reached Mobilio, who had his hands covering his face.
"I opened one eye and saw Kenny," Mobilio said. "I just wanted to have a little fun. I thought Marty would come on to the field. But when I looked up and saw Kenny, I knew then I had gone far enough."
Mobilio jumped up and ran from the startled coach.
"When I saw him lying there, my blood pressure went up and my heart was racing," Cooper said after his blood pressure had returned to normal. "I'm thinking, 'This is Dom, who is far too
serious to play a joke.' When I got there, he was holding his face and he looked up at me out of one eye and I thought, 'You little son of a gun!'
"I guess if Dom can play a joke like that, it's the final statement. There isn't any doubt about this team being loose. I think I'll bring my medication to practice [today] so I'm prepared for whatever they hatch."
At this point, the Blast is beating all the odds. It goes into Game 3 at the Baltimore Arena tonight with the best-of-seven series tied 1-1 after pulling off a 7-6 win in San Diego on Friday. Now, it is home for games tonight, Thursday and Saturday, and has a fighting chance.
The Blast is in this position because it has played a packed-in defense. It is not always pretty to watch, but, against the Sockers, it has been effective.
"San Diego has speed, skill, tradition and confidence," said Blast forward Rod Castro. "The only way to beat them is to take at least one of those advantages away. Our defense has limited their speed, and that's a big, big part of their game."
This is not a new defense for the Blast, but it is playing it better than in the past.
"We've been concentrating better," said Blast defender Iain Fraser. "We know we're in the fun part of the year, but we also know we can't give up silly goals. In the regular season, we gave up some bad goals. If we do that now, it means a game, and you find yourself looking at the next game to recover."
Cooper said he isn't planning any major changes for tonight. The Blast will go with what has worked. So far in this series, it has survived on its defense and its shooting accuracy. The Blast has been outshot 71-33, but each team has scored 11 goals, the Blast shooting .333 from the field, while the Sockers are shooting .155.
"I've asked guys to sacrifice scoring, to stay with San Diego's runners and play team defense," said Cooper. "Now, we have to sense when to change it and when not to change it. If San Diego decides to pack in its defense, we've got to be ready for it. We all know Paul Wright, Tim Wittman, [Paul] Dougherty and Wes Wade are going to get free sometime. We have to respect their speed, but we have options."
Cooper said a big part of how successful the Blast is tonight will depend on how much confidence it has in itself when it has the ball.
"We're loose, and I can't tell you why," Cooper said. "But that looseness has translated to patience and the patience to competence, and those are the keys to our future."
Blast playoff schedule
(Series tied, 1-1) Game 1 -- San Diego 5, Blast 4
Game 2 -- Blast 7, San Diego 6
Today -- at Baltimore, 7:05 p.m.
Thursday -- at Baltimore, 7:05 p.m.
Saturday -- at Baltimore, 7:35 p.m.
April 20 -- at San Diego, 10:35 p.m.*
April 21 -- at San Diego, 10:35 p.m.*
-- if necessary