Blast-Wave matchup has playoff feel

Healey's team hits road on 5-game, 8-day pace

January 21, 2000|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

Blast coach Kevin Healey won't say it, instead choosing to have his team treat tonight's game at Milwaukee like any other.

But he figures Wave coach Keith Tozer probably will.

"Keith will probably say to his team that this could be a preview of the finals -- to get them going. But we won't look at it like that," Healey said.

Whether it is a preview of the finals or not, tonight's match at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee shapes up as a good one.

The Blast has won eight of its past nine games, and the Wave has won seven of 10. The Blast (14-8) has the best record midway through the season in the American Conference. Milwaukee (13-7), preseason favorite to win the National Professional Soccer League title, has the National Conference's second-best mark.

Healey has seen goals come from a multitude of players recently, including seven in the last game, an 18-6 win over Harrisburg on Tuesday.

That kind of group effort will be needed tonight if the Blast plans to beat Wave goalkeeper Victor Nogueira, whose 9.56 points-against average leads the league.

This game could be a defensive struggle, considering the Blast has held three of its last four opponents under seven points.

"Victor Nogueira is the engine that runs the car," forward Derrick Marcano said. "Really, they are the same, exact team that we are. They work hard up and down the floor. It is just going to be one of those games [about] who is more determined.

"They work hard and are physical, but we work hard and are physical. They have a good goalkeeper in Victor, and we have a good goalkeeper in Scott [Hileman]."

This is the fourth game in seven days for the Blast, which traveled to Milwaukee yesterday. The teams have met only once this season, a 26-12 win in which the Blast put up its highest point total of the season, although Nogueira sat out that match.

Denison Cabral, the Blast's only All-Star, scored three times -- as did forwards Tarik Walker and Mark Thomas -- in that early-season rout in Baltimore, benefiting from Erik Rasmussen's deadly eye for assists. Rasmussen had three that night.

But Marcano said that game, the third of the season, holds little bearing on what is going to happen tonight.

"This is probably one of the toughest games this year, if not the toughest," Marcano said. "They are a different team than the first time. Their coach is so [good] at adapting to his players. He works well at finding out what his team does wrong and corrects it. It is not going to be the same game as before."

Blast tonight

Opponent: Milwaukee Wave

Site: Bradley Center, Milwaukee

Time: 8 Radio: WCBM (680 AM)

Outlook: This is the Blast's fourth game in seven days. The team will play again tomorrow in Harrisburg. Wave goalkeeper Victor Nogueira leads the league with a 9.56 points-against average. Forward Michael King leads the Wave with 64 points. The Blast won the previous meeting in October, 26-12.

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