Blast sets goal for next season: winning title

Despite late swoon, Healey is optimistic

April 05, 1999|By FROM STAFF REPORTS

Perhaps there's something to be said for the Blast's being guilty of a late-season fade during which it lost five straight games to finish with a losing record and fail to make the playoffs in its first season "back."

No sooner did the team beat the Montreal Impact, 11-6, in its final home game Friday and the players were spread around the arena floor signing autographs when coach Kevin Healey, eyes squarely on the future, said, "We know what we have to do."

Forget about enjoying this one, he thought, give thanks to the fans for supporting us and let's get started on next season. That's one thing about soccer types: There is no off-season; indoors leads to outdoors, leads to clinics, conditioning, practice and let's get started again.

"We won't be satisfied just making the playoffs next year," Healey said. "Our goal will be to win the title."

Hold on. From near worst, being one of only three of 13 teams to fail to make postseason play, to first in one gravity-defying leap? It may not be as far-fetched as it sounds.

Before losing five games in a 10-day stretch at the end of March, three of them in the waning moments and one in overtime, the Blast had played better than all but one team in the league for weeks. Starting in 1999, the team rose from a 4-10 record, worst in the NPSL, to 17-16 by going 13-6.

It was no fluke. At each end of the stretch, the club had four-game win streaks. In the middle, while winning five of 11 contests, it didn't lose more than two in a row at any point. Here's an example of how opportunistic the Blast was during the sustained march of nearly 20 games: While winning 13 times in 19 tries, the Blast was actually outscored by the opposition, 270-269.

The club had a knack for winning the close ones. More than half the 13 victories were by a point (four) or two points (three). It was rare when the players had a chance to sneak in even one deep breath during the fourth quarter of most games. Playing under pressure proved an elixir for some.

Ironically, it was when the Blast welcomed the return of a couple of its most solid individuals off the injury list, midfielder Danny Kelly and goalkeeper Brett Phillips, that the bottom fell out. For, at the same time, the defensive corps was taking hits all over the place. Missing anywhere from four to a dozen games at the end of the season were defenders Troy Snyder, Jason Dieter and Todd Hicks and defensive forward Brad Smith.

Although injuries had played a big part in the season all along, it didn't seem to matter. If someone went down, the Blast was able to hustle out and get help. Forwards Franklin McIntosh and Mark Thomas together with Phillips and fellow goalie Scott Hileman joined the team along the way.

At the start of the season, everyone was wondering where the scoring was going to come from. "Don't worry, we'll get enough points," said the coach, before adding, "I think."

Scoring wasn't a problem. Outscored 773-694, the Blast proved on numerous occasions that it wasn't a case of how many, but when. Thomas and Denison Cabral tied for the team lead in points with 110 apiece. Tarik Walker checked in with 108, and McIntosh finished with 104. Few teams can boast of such balance in their scoring, and no other team had the luxury of four 100-point scorers.

If the Blast had a weakness up front among the forwards and midfielders, it's that some got sloppy on too many occasions and forgot that indoor soccer is a two-way game and all five players have to do their part in front of their net.

Even with the acquisition of proven goalkeepers Phillips and Hileman, who combined to start 17 games, the play in net wasn't always consistent. It's six of one, half-dozen of another whether it was the keeper or the overall defense that was to blame. Clearly, the Blast's giving up more than 14.5 points per game was too much, particularly when the team scoring average was 13.

Assuming the team brings back all its attackmen, probably a rash assumption considering McIntosh doesn't seem to want to stay in one place for longer than a season lately, the need appears to be defensive help. Or one or two more defensive forwards, either by pickup or by development of some players on the current roster.

Without saying so, that's probably what Healey means when he says, "we know what we have to do."

Pub Date: 4/05/99

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