Blast rough stuff called self-defense

`Not looking to start anything,' coach says

NPSL notes

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

The way the Blast's coach and players tell it, they are a team defending itself. Their explanation after being involved in five nasty skirmishes with opposing teams this season: retaliation, on all five accounts.

"We're going to protect ourselves," Blast coach Kevin Healey said. "We are not looking to go out there and start anything."

The extracurricular rough stuff has occurred either during or after games this season, twice apiece against Philadelphia and Cleveland.

The most recent incident occurred after Sunday's 15-3 win over the KiXX in Philadelphia. As the final buzzer sounded, Blast defender Ronnie Simmons got into it with KiXX defender Neil Gilbert, who Simmons accused of giving him a cheap shot as the game ended.

Both squads ran back through the tunnels leading to their respective locker rooms and had to be restrained by arena security, who locked a steel door separating them.

Simmons, who had a cut lip, was irate.

"He [Gilbert] has done a lot for women's soccer," Simmons said. "He proved that women can play in the [National Professional Soccer League], too."

But that episode came after a worse, final-period fight between Baltimore's Mark Thomas and Philadelphia's Don D'Ambra in Baltimore during the previous game, won 11-9 by the KiXX, that drew criticism from parents of some of the Boy Scouts on hand for the game.

The question that came up about the game, from which three players were ejected, was sportsmanship -- or the lack of it.

"I think you have to look at how we handled it after it happened," Healey said. "We continued to play with no problems. We shook hands after the game. I think that showed a great deal of sportsmanship."

Previously, punches were thrown in front of the visiting team's dressing room at the Baltimore Arena after a Crunch game that led to Cleveland backup goalkeeper Nick DiCello claiming a serious eye injury after getting hit.

The Blast has become more of a target for teams because of holding the top spot in the American Conference for virtually the entire season. Winning breeds not only a different attitude among Blast players but also opposing teams' best shots.

"We are not going to let any team come in here and push us around," Blast forward Paul Wright said. "We are going to stand up for ourselves. In the past, teams have come in here and had success. We know we are as physical and talented as anybody."

Crunch coach Bruce Miller agreed with that assessment and added, "Their talent level has increased substantially, but there is some baggage that comes with that. They've got some competitive guys. They play the game hard.

"But sometimes they don't leave it all on the field and carry it afterward."

The Blast and KiXX have two more games with each other this season, with the next in Baltimore Tuesday morning.

Milwaukee clinches

Milwaukee became the first NPSL team to clinch its a division title last weekend. The Wave (28-9) has an 8 1/2 game lead over Edmonton in the North Division.

Wave goalkeeper Victor Nogueira leads the league with a 10.21 points-against average.

The Blast, whose magic number is four, is the next team closest to clinching.

Rockers game shifted

The Blast's game against the Detroit Rockers in Tampa, originally scheduled for Saturday, has been moved to 3: 05 p.m. Sunday. It's a home game for the Rockers, whose owner is moving his team to Tampa.

"We're having one game down there, trying to sell the sport to that market," Healey said.

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