Healey, Blast say Cleveland's record doesn't reflect talent

Despite 2-4 mark, Crunch possesses high-scoring duo

November 26, 1999|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

Blast coach Kevin Healey is paying about as much attention to Cleveland's 2-4 record as he is his team's own 5-2 record. Hardly any.

Healey said the defending National Professional Soccer League champion Crunch has not played close to its capabilities this season, and he is not caught up in the Blast's second-best record in the league.

In the preseason, Healey said his team could be measured by how it does against Cleveland and Milwaukee. The Blast is 1-0 against Milwaukee and will face Cleveland for the first time this season tonight.

"Cleveland has had some injuries," Healey said. "Hector [Marinaro] has sat out some games. From my understanding, Hector is going to play [tonight.] At home, most of their players have played. On the road is where they have sat out. It is clear that Cleveland is a solid team, and we need to prepare to have a good game against them."

Marinaro and Zoran Karic usually are at or near the top of the points list at the end of the season. Karic is fourth in the NPSL this year with 34.

That tandem is probably the most difficult in the league to stop and a major reason the Crunch won the title last season.

It is shaping up to be quite a matchup between the Crunch midfielders and the Blast defense, which has been much improved this season, giving up a season-low eight points Saturday against Montreal. The team yielded 11 points the day before against Philadelphia.

"I think in this league, if anybody can hold another team to under 10 points, they are going to win a lot of games," defender Jason Dieter said. "Our team is going to score more than 10 points a game with the offensive firepower we have.

"Hector is obviously a great goal scorer. But the thing he does best is strike the ball on goal. Our key, especially on free kicks, is to focus on getting the ball and especially try and block shots."

It is the first of back-to-back road games for the Blast, which will take on Harrisburg (2-5) tomorrow. The trips come at a time when the offense is struggling somewhat.

Healey still stressed the defense-first attitude in practice this week, but he did work on a few things in hopes of getting the offense back to where it was at the beginning of the season.

"We worked some of our practices around our offensive abilities," Healey said. "We're talking defense because we believe if you make good defensive plays, you'll put yourself in position to score goals. But we have been doing more things in practice this week that are more offensive-oriented, like getting in the box and pure shooting drills."

The Blast is third in the league in scoring, averaging 16.7 points, 0.1 behind second-place Cleveland. Edmonton leads the league with 18.8 points.

"The goal with both of these road games is to keep the game close and then try and pull something out at the end," midfielder Danny Kelly said. "Cleveland is probably the best team in the league at home. So we know we have two tough games, because Harrisburg is always tough against us."

Blast tonight

Opponent: Cleveland Crunch Site: CSU Convocation Center

Time: 7: 30

Outlook: The Crunch's Hector Marinaro and Zoran Karic are probably the best scoring tandem in the league. This will be Blast goalkeeper Scott Hileman's toughest test this season. The Crunch is second in the league in scoring average (16.8) and is undefeated at home. Cleveland lost its last game at Detroit, scoring eight points. A win for the Blast in Cleveland could restore the confidence that was shaken after two home losses.

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