Blast visiting win-hungry Buffalo, Philadelphia

Baltimore coach expects `playoff-type atmosphere'

Soccer

March 11, 2000|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

It is about that time in the season when the Blast can expect to see everybody's best.

Teams such as the Buffalo Blizzard, which the Blast faces at 2: 05 p.m. today, are fighting for playoff spots and cannot afford too many more losses, especially at home.

"Buffalo needs to go into a very good stretch," said Blast coach Kevin Healey, whose team arrived in Buffalo yesterday. "Certainly, all the home games for them will be very critical. We just need to do what we do best on the road."

And that, according to Healey, is to take control of the game early by putting up some quick points and finishing strong. That has been the formula for the current road trip, on which the Blast is 2-1.

But in Buffalo (16-19), the Blast (22-13) face a team that is coming off of a coaching change and has to make up a three-game deficit with Montreal for the fourth and final playoff spot.

The Blizzard has gone 2-1 since Paul Kitson, a Blast star in the '80s and Maryland Mania coach last summer, replaced George Fernandez last week.

"I don't know if they do anything differently or not," Blast goalkeeper Scott Hileman said. "But I know that I've got to be ready to weather the storm. Buffalo is going to press hard, so I'm going to have to be on my game in order to give the team a chance to win."

Buffalo offers a bigger playing surface than Baltimore has, a factor Healey said the Blizzard uses to its advantage. The key for the Blast will be stopping Blizzard midfielders from controlling the ball and, thus, the game's pace.

The Blizzard is not a high-scoring team, having the third worst points average in the National Professional Soccer League. That makes controlling the ball and limiting the Blast's chances extra important. The Blast is third in the league in scoring, averaging 15.4 points a game, and second in defense.

Buffalo is coming off a 14-13 win over Cleveland Thursday.

"With the coaching change, they will have their backs up against the wall," Blast forward Mark Thomas said. "They have a good midfielder in [Rudy] Pikuzinski."

The Blast road trip continues in Philadelphia at 4: 05 p.m. tomorrow against the KiXX, trailing Baltimore in the East. Philly also plays today -- Harrisburg, in Greensboro, N.C.

"I expect a playoff-type atmosphere," Healey said. "It's good for us to get into that situation, to play a team in need of a win."

Blast today

Opponent: Buffalo Blizzard

Site: Marine Midland Arena, Buffalo, N.Y.

Time: 2: 05 p.m.

Radio: WCBM (680 AM)

Outlook: This is the first of back-to-back road games for the Blast, a scenario that most of the season has been good for at least a split. Under new coach Paul Kitson, Buffalo is 2-1. But the Blast holds a 2-1 season advantage, including a 17-14 win on the last visit to Buffalo.

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