Blast opening playoffs, title quest

Game tonight in Philly starts `second season'

April 07, 2000|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

It would have been easier to just accept progress.

To make the playoffs for the first time in three seasons, or to win the division title would have served as acceptable goals for the Blast heading into this season.

But from Day 1, to want to win the National Professional Soccer League title?

"We said that at the end of last year that our goal next year was to win the championship," Blast coach Kevin Healey said. "I remember signing autographs and saying we know what we need to do to win the title. I heard some people around town say, `Man, that is a gutsy thing to say.' But that is the way we feel."

The playoff phase of that quest starts tonight in Philadelphia, where the Blast will open its best-of-three series against the KiXX. The Blast won the season series, 5-3, dethroning Philadelphia for the East Division title. The teams will return to Baltimore for Game 2 at 7: 35 p.m. tomorrow, with Game 3, if necessary, in Baltimore on Monday night.

"It is easy for us to say that we've reached our goals and everything now is icing on the cake," Healey said. "No. That is not the case. We are proud of what we did on the field. We are proud of our attendance this season. But our goal is to win the championship. Now, it's the second season, and it is time for us to back up our word. If we don't win the championship, we'll be disappointed."

So Healey's team starts its journey against a team it had success against at crucial points this season.

The Blast won the most important game between the teams back on March 12 in Philadelphia by 12 points, giving it a four-game lead in the division. Blast goalkeeper Scott Hileman held Philadelphia to three shootout goals in that game, and the KiXX was shut out in the first half of the next meeting between the teams a little more than a week later. The Blast went on to win that game, 14-8, in Baltimore and clinch the division title.

In all, the KiXX went more than 90 minutes without a goal in the run of play in those games.

"Since we've faced them so many times, they know that we can beat them home or away," Blast forward Derrick Marcano said. "They said they wanted to play us. But deep down, they don't want to play us. They are trying to get themselves psyched up so they can get ready for this game."

Because of the NPSL playoff format, the KiXX will have the advantage of opening the series at home tonight. To cut down on travel costs, the lower seeds are host to the first game of the series, and the higher seeds are home for the final two.

The KiXX went 15-7 at home this season and won its last five regular-season games.

Starting on the road "is not preferable," Healey said. "But it is the league rules, and we can't do anything about it.

"But we still have the two games at home. And we certainly are not going to give away that game in Philadelphia. We feel confident that we can go up there and win the game."

Much will depend on the Blast's ability to contain forwards Domenic Mobilio and Goran Hunjak. Mobilio led the KiXX with 156 points this season. Hunjak put up 145, and goalkeeper Peter Pappas was third in the league with an 11.52 points-against average.

"We feel like we've done a good job against them before," Healey said.

Blast vs. KiXX

American Conference semifinals (Best of three)

Game 1: Tonight, at Philadelphia, 7: 35

Game 2: Tomorrow, at Baltimore Arena, 7: 35 p.m.

Game 3: Monday, at Baltimore Arena, 7: 05 p.m. (if necessary)

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