Blast looks primed to explode offensively

With 5 100-point scorers, coach sees a contender

October 21, 1999|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

Six years ago, when Paul Wright was with Baltimore, opposing teams focused on him -- and only him -- because he was the team's lone scoring threat.

It is not like that now for Wright, who is in his second stint with Baltimore after spending three seasons with Major League Soccer's Kansas City Wizards.

The Blast will feature five past 100-point scorers this season including Wright, who put up 146 in 1993-1994 in Baltimore, and fellow free-agent forward Erik "The Wizard" Rasmussen.

They will join forwards Tarik Walker and Mark Thomas and midfielder Denison Cabral in forming what should be one of the most dangerous scoring teams in the league and the definite strength of the team.

"It takes a lot of pressure off me," Wright said. "The last time I was here, I had to carry the load. I had to do everything offensively. This time around, I have a lot more help. It is more of a relief for me."

Wright may get the most help from Rasmussen, who signed with the Blast after putting up 184 points with Wichita last season. He made his debut yesterday in practice after missing most of the preseason because of a prior soccer commitment.

Even with Rasmussen getting in only two practices before the Blast's season home opener tomorrow against the Philadelphia Kixx, coach Kevin Healey plans to get him some quality time.

He says signing a talent such asRasmussen could put the Blast in position to challenge for the league title.

"The beauty of an Erik Rasmussen is that, yes, he scores goals, but the best thing he does is pass the ball when people move to open spaces," Healey said.

"He does draw double teams a lot. We'll be looking at the timing to see how he gets used to it. That is one of the negatives of him coming in later. But you have to love playing with a guy like him."

Rasmussen's passing and ball-handling ability earned him the nickname "The Wizard." He will split time with Walker and Thomas at forward. The three scored a combined 411 points last season.

"It's always exciting to get with a new club and see how everything is," Rasmussen said. "This is a good area. There are a lot of exciting things to see and do. I have a brother in Annapolis. I just wanted to get away from Wichita."

In the midfield, Danny Kelly and Cabral will form one line, with Wright and Barry Stitz making up the other.

Shane Dougherty, who should be back in a few weeks after having ankle surgery, J. J. Kremer and Danny Sontoro also will see time as midfielders and forwards.

Thomas said that having so many scorers, while many teams have only one or two, will make life tough for coaches trying to defend the Blast. It will also give the team depth in case of injuries.

"Hopefully, we will have some easy games [in which] we score 20, 25, maybe even 30 points," said Thomas, who arrived in a trade late last season from Florida and led the Blast in points with 115.

"If you have more scorers, not just forwards and midfielders but defenders who can come out of the back and score, that puts a lot more pressure on other teams' defense, and they just can't key on one guy. They can't just key on Erik, Paul, myself or Tarik. I think it is a big asset."

The big question comes in how to keep so many players used to being the focal part of the team's offense happy?

Healey says he has seen no signs of selfishness in any of his players. He said the players are getting along well on and off the field. Healey has kept the focus on winning and playing together since the start of camp.

It is a philosophy that Cabral, who this time last year was looked upon to score along with Walker, has bought into, now that Thomas, Rasmussen and Wright have arrived. It will be difficult for Cabral, known for turning a back-flip after scoring, to match his 110 points of last season.

"The most important thing is the team winning," Cabral said. "I will do my best to create a situation with goals and score as many goals I can. I know my teammates will do the same. We are going to be in good shape, as long as everybody plays for the team. I don't think we are going to have a problem with that."

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