Matchups

April 14, 2000|By Brent Jones

Forwards: The Crunch has the league's best-ever scoring duo in Hector Marinaro and Zoran Karic. It holds the top spots on the all-time playoff scoring list, each with more than 300 points. Karic put up 17 points in the Crunch's opening-series sweep of Montreal. The Blast is more balanced in its scoring, with many of its points coming from midfielders and defenders. But with Paul Wright's speed, Erik Rasmussen's passing, Tarik Walker's size and Mark Thomas' all-around game, Blast forwards should have ample chances.

Advantage: Crunch.

Midfielders: Cleveland's Tommy Tanner was third on the team in scoring this season with 105 points, along with 47 blocks. Goran Vasic had 100 points, and defender Andy Schmetzer sometimes moved to the midfield. Denison Cabral led the Blast in scoring and set a record for shootout goals. Danny Kelly leads the team with eight points in the playoffs, and Shane Dougherty, Barry Stitz and Danny Santoro add depth with very little drop-off.

Advantage: Blast.

Defenders: The Blast's Lance Johnson and Jason Dieter had outstanding years, and Ronnie Simmons is one of the league's most dangerous threats from three-point territory. Doug Neely is back from an injury that forced him out of 14 games this season, and his experience should be big in this series. Cleveland's Schmetzer, Troy Dusosky, Scott Schweitzer and Oscar Draguicevich are as talented as any group in the league, though somewhat undersized. Draguicevich led the team with 96 blocks.

Advantage: Blast.

Goalkeepers: The Blast's Scott Hileman finished second for the league's top goalkeeper award, behind Milwaukee's Victor Nogueira. Hileman has an 8.26 points-against average for the playoffs, behind Nogueira. Cleveland's Otto Orf had an All-Star season and is allowing 8.48 points a game in the playoffs. He came up big last season in the Crunch's title run, posting the league's fourth shutout ever against Philadelphia. In the end, Hileman probably is more important to the Blast's success than Orf is to the Crunch's.

Advantage: Blast, slightly.

Coach: Blast coach Kevin Healey has his team in the conference finals in his second season as coach. He has won titles before with the USISL's Baltimore Bays. Healey finished third for Coach of the Year this season after the Blast won Baltimore's first division title in seven years. Cleveland's Bruce Miller won it all last year and has had his team in the finals three of the last four years, winning twice. Healey is coaching for the first time in the NPSL playoffs; Miller has a 21-15 record.

Advantage: Crunch, slightly.

Intangibles: The Crunch has home-field advantage after finishing with the American Conference's top record. Cleveland also took four of the five games in the season series. The problem for the Crunch is that it is starting on the road, where it has struggled most of the season. The Blast has not lost back-to-back games since mid-December. Baltimore has not won an NPSL title since the mid-1980s and is hungry for one this season. But doing so may require winning a Game 3 in Cleveland.

Advantage: Crunch.

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