Look-alike Blast, Impact clashing again

But Baltimore has 3-1 edge in division leaders' series

Soccer

February 18, 2000|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

The Blast and Montreal Impact head into tonight's 7: 30 game at Baltimore Arena with identical 17-11 records -- fitting, because the teams may be the most alike in the National Professional Soccer League.

Unlike most league teams, both teams have not depended on one or two dominant scorers; instead, they have been getting contributions from players throughout their respective rosters. Neither team has a player who has reached 100 points on the season, but each has six players with at least 45 points.

Both have solid goal-keeping, too. Montreal's All-Star Paolo Ceccarelli is fourth in the 12-team league with a 11.84 goals-against average; the Blast's Scott Hileman is tied for the league-lead with 16 wins.

And both teams, said Blast coach Kevin Healey, need high-energy efforts to be successful.

"In a way, they are kind of like us, because you can't key in on one guy," Healey said.

"They have a good execution of the game," Blast forward Erik Rasmussen said. "This is one of the teams that I like to play against, because they are not on the field to destroy the game. They just want to play."

The teams have led their respective American Conference divisions since the beginning of the season, and Montreal is 9-2 within its Central Division, tops in the league.

The Impact, though, is 1-3 against the East Division's Blast. Another loss tonight would guarantee the season series for the Blast, giving Baltimore home-field advantage throughout the playoffs if both teams finish with the same records and first in their divisions.

More importantly, a win could give the Blast a mental edge if the teams do meet in the playoffs. They have two more regular-season games, both in Montreal.

"Always, when you play for first place, it is a big game," Blast forward Tarik Walker said. "The thing is, we know we are going to face them later on in the playoffs. So we definitely want to get some wins against them under our belt and make them think about it later on in the season.

"If you go into the playoffs winning that season series against a team, you are going to feel more confident. When you feel confident against a team, it is a little bit easier to face them."

The Blast won the previous meeting 15-11 in Montreal. But the Blast is coming off a 16-15 loss to Harrisburg, the first game in a five-game home stand.

With Kansas City coming in on Sunday, this is the first time in three weekends the Blast has faced multiple games.

"I think we may be more focused with our fitness and conditioning," Healey said. "We've been a good second-half team. Looking at the stats, both Montreal and Kansas City have been good second-half teams, too."

Blast tonight

Opponent: Montreal Impact

Site: Baltimore Arena

Time: 7: 30

Radio: WCBM (680 AM)

Outlook: The Blast's Denison Cabral (96 points) and Montreal's Giuliano Oliviero (97) could go over the 100-point mark tonight. Each leads his team in scoring. Impact goalkeeper Paolo Ceccarelli leads the league in save percentage (.758) and saves (477). The Blast leads the season series 3-1.

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