The Blast is quickly getting over the disappointment of losing the Major Soccer League semifinal series to the San Diego Sockers.
Yesterday, Blast forward Domenic Mobilio already was thinking about what the Blast needs to improve next year. And Blast coach Kenny Cooper was preparing his practice schedule for the next month.
That's right. The MSL season may be over for the Blast, but most players are under contract until at least May 15, and Cooper said he will use every day to give his team more experience.
"I told them after the game Saturday that we'd have practice Wednesday," Cooper said. "They've come a long way this season, and now we're going to work with them to make sure they continue to develop."
Part of the reason for the extended practices is that the Blast is completing negotiations on a trip to Birmingham, England, for a May 19 game against First Division power Aston Villa.
"What we, and most of the teams in the league need, is one or two playmakers in the midfield," said Mobilio, who will not make the England trip, because he will be trying out with the Canadian national team. "That's no disrespect to our midfielders. We had 11 new guys this season and we came together and played well at the end. But one or two more players with experience and one big-name guy to come in and score a lot of goals, that's all we're missing."
The Blast, the youngest team in the MSL this season, played the Sockers, the most experienced team, close in the semifinal series that ended Saturday with a 4-3 San Diego victory.
It was the fourth time in five games that the Blast lost by one goal. It was also the fifth time in five playoff tries that the Blast has fallen to the Sockers.
The reasons for the series loss were twofold: San Diego goalkeeper Victor Nogueira, who was brilliant throughout, and the Sockers' ability to shut down Mobilio and Jean Harbor during the final three games.
Mobilio had two goals and one assist in five games. Harbor, who started strong with four goals and one assist in the first two games, was held to three assists in the final three games.
"Jean came through the last month of the season for us," Mobilio said. "But as a target man, it is still very difficult, because the opposing team can key on you and double-team you in the corners, especially in our small arena. San Diego was simply able to shut us down. The more offensive threats you have, the better off you are."
With an early-season injury to Mike Stankovic and with Billy Ronson having a subpar season because of a knee injury, the Blast struggled at midfield.
It was a situation that forced Mobilio to learn how to create for himself, but it also was a situation that limited the Blast's goal production.
Team speed improved with the addition of Harbor, Kevin Sloan and Joe Koziol, and Doug Neely's late-season play in the midfield was a blessing. Captain Rusty Troy continued to mature, showing leadership in tight situations, and the defense developed into a close unit.
But, despite the consistent play of Mobilio and Rod Castro up front, the offense was a question all year.
As Cooper sees it, the Blast might well be where it was the year before it signed Stan Stamenkovic for the 1983-84 season. That year, it played San Diego for the championship and came away convinced it had a solid team, but had to find a game-breaker of a power forward. Enter Stamenkovic.
"I don't want to see us make a lot of changes," Cooper said last night. "But Dom's right. We've got to find a top gun -- or a big gun. Dom's very disappointed and we've got to understand he's still developing. We've got to find someone to take some of the weight off."
In the past, the Blast has tried to sign the Dallas Sidekicks' Tatu and San Diego's Paul Wright. Cooper said he and Blast owner Ed Hale talked yesterday and agreed to again pursue a big scorer.
"But a lot of good things happened this year," Cooper said. "We had 11 new players, we were competitive and we made it into the playoffs. [Sockers coach] Ron Newman couldn't have said it any better: We were constantly improving. We just ran out of games."
NOTES: The Miami Herald reported yesterday that the Fort Lauderdale Strikers this week will pursue Harbor, whose contract with the Blast ended Saturday. Former Maryland Bays players Sloan and Philip Gyau have signed with the Strikers.