Forward Jean Harbor limped down the stairs in the Baltimore Arena to watch his Blast teammates work out. He moved slowly, holding a bag of ice concealed beneath his sweat suit.
"I'm dead," he said. "This injury, it is right where it hurts every time you turn. But by game time, we'll see."
By game time, 7:05 tonight, the Blast expects Harbor to be ready, despite the hip-flexor strain he suffered near the end of Tuesday'sgame. If there is one thing this team doesn't need in its best-of-seven Major Soccer League semifinal series with the San Diego Sockers, it is for its leading scorer in the playoffs (four goals, two assists) to be sidelined.
Harbor helped the Blast to a win Friday in San Diego, and in a 5-4 overtime loss Tuesday, he set up Rod Castro's score that forced the extra period.
"I could not sleep at all [Tuesday night], I was so [angry]," said Harbor. "We made those comebacks and then we just let it end like that."
Game 3 was physical, and though Harbor felt the hip-flexor strain at the end, he refused to blame it for his inability to stop Kevin Crow's game-winning shot.
"On that play, I got caught on the other side of the field and he sneaked over there," Harbor said. "I saw the ball going to him and I knew I couldn't get there -- especially since he wasted no time. The ball came and he shot it instantly."
Harbor might have had a goal of his own Tuesday, expect for the valiant play of defender Alex Golovnia.
"My shot was going into the net," Harbor said. "No way it wasn't going to be a goal. I saw him there, but I thought he would duck." Golovnia took the shot full in the face.
Harbor, who hits his teammates regularly during practices, intended no harm. But he smiled yesterday, recalling the moment. "I couldn't believe he didn't duck," he said. "Maybe he will duck the next time."
Harbor's sneaky power seems to freeze defenders. Tuesday, he drew double coverage, a first in these playoffs for the former outdoor star.
"Everyone was a little down after Tuesday's loss," Harbor said. "But maybe this isn't so bad for us. Maybe this is the way we like it. We were flat Tuesday. Now, we know we just have to come in and do more. Everyone is very calm about it."
San Diego is also calm. Sockers coach Ron Newman said he is feeling much better about his team today.
"We don't look as majestic as in the past," Newman said. "But we played well [Tuesday]. We stoped making all those unforced errors we had been making in the first two games. I think we're over that now."
One of the reasons the Blast is competitive in this series is that unlike past, more experienced Blast teams, it has not made major unforced errors. After Tuesday's loss, Cooper spent half the night looking at films. Yesterday, in a team meeting, he discussed attitude.
"I'm not going to be specific about our talk," he said. "But it's important that this team is not intimidated. It wouldn't surprise me if there is a bench-clearing brawl before it's over.
No one is going to back down."
Cooper is constantly looking for signs that this series can be different from the other four playoff series the Blast has lost to San Diego. Tuesday night, going through the hall to the dressing rooms, he spied one.
"Ron [Newman] was understandably excited about the fact the Sockers had won, and he was shouting about taking the series back to San Diego," Cooper said. "In other years, our team would have gotten into a big fight right there. But this team just looked at him and smiled."
The Blast is one game down and in need of victory. Yet, there are no bottles of antacid in the locker room. No nervous cigarette smoking. Even yesterday, when its big-footed goal-scorer Harbor was hobbling, no one, least of all Harbor, seemed overly concerned.
"We seem to do our best work when we realize we have to win or else," he said.
Blast playoff schedule
Semifinals (San Diego leads, 2-1) Game 1 -- San Diego 5, Blast 4
Game 2 -- Blast 7, San Diego 6
Game 3 -- San Diego 5, Blast 4, OT
Today -- at Baltimore, 7:05 p.m.
Saturday -- at Baltimore, 7:35 p.m.
Monday -- at San Diego, 10:35 p.m.*
Tuesday -- at San Diego, 10:35 p.m.*
* -- if necessary