Blast on verge of crown in division

Win over KiXX today would clinch East

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

The school kids watching today's 10: 35 a.m. Blast game against Philadelphia at Baltimore Arena could get a chance to see a new East Division champion crowned.

A goal that seemed more than possible at the beginning of the season can happen today for the Blast, a franchise in the second year of new ownership.

A victory today would secure the first title for a Baltimore club since the 1992-93 season. If it happens, it will come in front of a crowd made up of mostly area students, nine hours before the team's normal starting time.

"Winning this game would be the first step in achieving the goals that we want to achieve," coach Kevin Healey said. "We went from 12-28 [in 1997-98] to not making the playoffs last year. To come out and win the division this year is one of many goals that we have set for the team."

Another goal is to finish atop the American Conference, something the Blast can focus on exclusively if it beats the KiXX. The Milwaukee Wave has already clinched the North Division as well as first place in the National Conference.

Cleveland, which leads the Central Division with four games left, is battling the Blast (23-15) for the top spot in the conference. The Crunch (24-16) owns the season-series 3-1.

Philadelphia would surely like to knock the Blast off the top spot in the conference, while at the same time staying in the race for the division title. The teams have had off-the-field altercations in each of the past two matches.

In the previous game at Philadelphia, Blast defender Ronnie Simmons had to be restrained by arena security from going after KiXX defender Neil Gilbert, whom Simmons said landed a cheap shot after the match.

The match before, Blast forward Mark Thomas and Philadelphia defender Don D'Ambra exchange punches.

The KiXX is in a difficult position to play catch-up, trailing by four games with six to play. The Blast also leads the season series 4-2. Philadelphia has won the division the past two seasons.

The Blast has held the top spot in the conference for the majority of the season, and is one of two teams in the National Professional Soccer League to have a winning record (10-9) on the road.

The Blast went 3-3 on this past road trip and had a chance to finish with a winning record before a 26-9 loss to the Detroit Rockers on Sunday in Tampa, Fla.

It was the worse lost of the year, a surprising way to end a road trip that had gone well. The good news for the Blast is that it has not lost consecutive games since Dec. 10.

In fact, the majority of the games that have come right after a Blast loss end in blowout victories.

"We are a very resilient team," Healey said. "When we look and say, `Hey, we don't want to get on a losing streak, we've performed well.

"I think a lot of teams in the league looked at our past road trip and said `Baltimore is going to be in trouble.' And that just didn't happen. We held our on doing that trip. Now we have to get back home, with a couple of road games between them, put some wins together and get ready for the playoffs."

Blast forward Mark Thomas added, "When you lose a game, you try extra to stay out of those slides. I think it has a lot to do with our mentality and how we approach coming back. We've also have not had any major injuries."

This is the second of five games in nine days for the Blast.

Said Blast defender Lance Johnson: "We need to get momentum by winning this game."

Blast today

Opponent: Philadelphia KiXX

Site: Baltimore Arena

Time: 10: 35 a.m.

Radio: WCBM (680 AM)

Outlook: The Blast can win the East Division with a win over the second-place KiXX, losers of three in a row. Blast forward Denison Cabral set a National Professional Soccer League record with his 33rd shootout goal Sunday against Detroit.

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