Foul play aside, Johnson leads Blast against KiXX

Veteran seeks redemption through consistent play

Soccer

November 19, 1999|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

Normally, Blast coach Kevin Healey will have a little talk with a player if he gets a penalty late in a match that affects the outcome.

Except when the player is defender Lance Johnson, whose foulin the Blast's last match against Wichita led to a game-tying goal and the Blast's eventual first loss of the season.

Healey knew he did not have to say anything to his team captain, because the next time he plays, Johnson will give the same good performance he has all season.

"It bothered him a bit, so I knew I didn't have to talk to him about it," Healey said. "I know he'll make it up the remaining part of the season. He's watched the tape and moved on."

Johnson said he wished he could have played four more games that night. He leads the Blast (4-1) against Philadelphia (2-3) at 7: 30 tonight in Baltimore Arena. The Blast also play at home against Montreal tomorrownight.

It was a somewhat-questionable call, to begin with -- a call Johnson said he has never been hit with in his seven seasons. Johnson tried to play a ball in the air, collided with a Wings' player, and was called for the penalty.

"The thing that stinks is that I did not mean to do it," Johnson said. "That is the thing that bothers me the most. I go up for those head balls all the time. That is the way you are taught to go up. You want to protect yourself, and I protected myself a little more than he did.

"I take it personally that it had to happen like that. But I'll go up like that again. I didn't do it intentionally."

Not that he has not tried to take a penalty for the team in the past. He is second all-time, behind Ronnie Simmons, for the Blast in penalty minutes (122). He leads the team with four minutes this season.

But that definitely was not his intent last week. As for how it will affect him the next time he takes the field, Johnson said it won't.

He is going to continue to play the type of game that led the former coaches to name him team captain three seasons ago and Healey to let him keep that title.

"Every game, he comes out to play," assistant coach Billy Ronson said. "He is tough when he needs to be. The most important thing about Lance's play is his consistency night in and night out. You get some players [who] will play three good games, then three off games, whereas Lance is very consistent in what he does."

Johnson, 29, is in his seventh season with the Baltimore franchise and has witnessed the organization change owners and turn into a title-caliber team.

Before owner Ed Hale bought the team last year, Johnson said his playing career would have been finished without a team in Baltimore.

He calls Baltimore home after starting four seasons at Towson University, where he led the Tigers to three consecutive East Coast Conference Titles. Johnson said he has no interest in moving or in another team, partly because of his 3-year old daughter Brianna.

"You get offered better money other places, but it was never an option," Johnson said. "I've let better deals go by because of her. If it is good here, there is no other reason to leave."

With six blocked shots, he is third on the team, behind Doug Neely and Simmons. Johnson also has two 2-point goals.

"He is a leader on this team," Neely said. "He is always lifting me up off the bench if things aren't going right. He's correcting things. Just the way he's been playing this year is incredible."

Johnson can help the Blast make it difficult with a victory tonight for Philadelphia to repeat as division champions.

"We all know that the more you play a team, the harder they are to beat," Johnson said. "So we are pretty prepared by knowing that. Every time we've played them, it's been a little bit more difficult, especially playing them in such a short span of time."

This is the fourth time in six games the teams have met, with the Blast winning the first three. The teams play eight times.

The KiXX will be without coach Omid Namazi, who was suspended four games by the National Professional Soccer League for verbally abusing the officials during and after the team's last game against the defending champion Cleveland Crunch, whom the KiXX have beaten twice.

Former Baltimore Spirit coach Mike Stankovic was the last NPSL coach suspended, in January 1997.

Blast tonight

Opponent: Philadelphia KiXX

Time: 7: 30

Where: Baltimore Arena

Radio: WCBM (680 AM)

Outlook: The KiXX is coming in off a 14-12 win over Cleveland for the second time this season. The off-season acquisitions of Genoni Martinez (20 points) and Domenic Mobilio (19) have paid off. They will need those two and goalkeeper Peter Pappas to play well tonight. If not, the KiXX will be fighting an uphill battle the rest of the season in trying to catch the Blast.

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