Few shaking in boots in paying Blast a visit

Two home losses in row blunt arena fear factor

NPSL notebook

February 16, 2000|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

Blast coach Kevin Healey likes the fear factor to be high when opposing teams step into Baltimore Arena.

For a time -- a period of about seven straight home victories for the Blast -- it probably was. But since the team has lost its past two games in front of its fans, it's a good bet that Montreal -- which will play the Blast on Friday -- is not intimidated.

"We've probably given teams a little bit of confidence when they walk into Baltimore, versus a Milwaukee [12-1 at home]," said Healey.

"When teams walk in there, they are concerned about their winning streak and how they're going to pull out a win."

Winning at home has been a recurring theme for Healey in his instructions to the Blast (17-11, 10-5 at home) this season. This current stretch will show if his words will pay dividends.

The Blast plays its next four games at home after losing, 16-15, to Harrisburg on Saturday. The five games mark the longest stand of the year and come right before a six-game road trip.

"We have a very good record on the road, but we don't want to have to rely on getting road wins late in the season," forward Tarik Walker said.

Defending its home field may prove difficult. The Blast faces the current first-place teams in each of the other divisions in its next three games, then finishes off the homestand against rival Philadelphia.

"If we win the next four games at home, it will make it a lot easier for us to focus in on what we need to do when we go on that road to be the top team within our conference," Healey said.

"You can do a lot of things down the stretch that way. You can rest players heading into the playoffs."

Wave keeps coming

Milwaukee, the preseason favorite to win the National Professional Soccer League title, has started to play like it, winning eight straight.

The Wave (20-7) trailed Edmonton for most of the season until the past couple of weeks, during which Milwaukee showed outstanding form and the Drillers went cold. Edmonton has won only four of its past 10 games, while the Wave is 9-1.

Consequently, Milwaukee (8-6) has opened a five-game lead in the North Division. The Wave and Blast (7-6) are the only two teams in the league that have winning records on the road.

Practice handicap?

One advantage the Blast had previously, but does not have this season, is practice time on its home turf.

With the arrival of the International Basketball League's BayRunners, the Blast has been forced to hold almost every practice at Du Burns Arena.

In previous years, the franchise usually could get Baltimore Arena the day before games.

"It may affect us a little bit," Healey said. "Anybody would rather practice on their home facility. It becomes a truer home facility at that point.

"It's good for Baltimore that the arena is being used; not as good for our organization that we don't get the practice time."

The playing area at Du Burns is slightly smaller than at Baltimore Arena.

"It may affect us more than we know it," Walker said. "When you think about getting a home advantage, it's because you play at home all the time. But we can't complain about it. We knew it would be like this before the season."

More Blast

Defender Doug Neely (back) and midfielder J.J. Kremer (groin muscle) will miss this weekend's games.

Healey said forward Paul Wright had been playing well for the Blast before reinjuring a stomach muscle two games ago. Wright played through the injury against Harrisburg, a game he probably should have sat out.

Wright estimates he will be close to 100 percent for Friday's contest.

"I always think I can do better than I'm doing," Wright said of his play right before the injury. "But as long as the team is winning, then that's what comes first."

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