New-look KiXX rides defensive bounce upstairs

Philadelphia overtakes Blast for 1st in conference

NPSL notebook


January 10, 2001|By Glenn P. Graham | Glenn P. Graham,SUN STAFF

The Philadelphia KiXX made the most of the franchise's 100th victory on Saturday - a 15-12 win over Cleveland that put the team atop the National Professional Soccer League.

The KiXX improved to 10-3 with the win and moved percentage points ahead of the Blast (11-4) and lead the American Conference for the first time this season.

It should come as no surprise that coach Omid Namazi splits time as a defender. The surprise is how well the team, with nine new players, has formed a cohesive defensive unit.

The KiXX has allowed 129 points in 13 games, a more-than-stingy 9.8 average.

It's been necessary with the offense scoring 190 points. Only Detroit, last in the National Conference with a 2-15 mark, has fewer points, with 188.

"We basically try to emphasize defense almost every day in practice, and every game we go in with the thinking if we play good defense, we'll come out with a win," Namazi said.

And while the KiXX welcomed all the new players to the roster, there has been no turnover in goal with veteran keeper Peter Pappas (league-leading 9.65 points-against) earning 96 of the team's 100 wins in his five seasons.

"I think their defense really starts in the back - Peter Pappas has had an outstanding season," said coach Kevin Healey, whose Blast will play host to Philadelphia on Saturday.

Player of Week honors

Cleveland forward Nikola Vignjevic had 12 points in the Crunch's 1-1 weekend and Harrisburg keeper Doug Petras only needed one strong game to claim NPSL offensive and defensive Player of the Week honors, respectively.

After a five-point performance in a 15-12 loss to Philadelphia on Saturday, Vignjevic finished with a season-high seven points to lead the Crunch to a 15-13 overtime win against Milwaukee on Sunday. He is now eighth in the NPSL in scoring with 61 points.

Petras finished with 23 saves in a 13-8 Heat win in Baltimore on Saturday, blanking the Blast in the first and fourth quarters. The veteran keeper leads the league in saves (347) and minutes played (1,042), and is tied for league honors with 11 wins.

ThunderHawks' numbers

The expansion Toronto ThunderHawks, first in the National Conference at 11-5, established some team standards over the weekend that will likely be around for a while.

In a 27-10 rout of Kansas City on Sunday, the ThunderHawks set team records for points scored (27), widest margin of victory (17) and most points in a half (19). But the one that has the most chance of sticking around is most consecutive points - 27.

The ThunderHawks rattled off 27 points after trailing 7-0.

Time well spent

Blast defender Ronnie Simmons showed that a little extra time after practice can pay big dividends.

With the rest of the team off to the showers after Wednesday's practice, Simmons - with an assist from keeper Scott Hileman - spent 20 minutes working on free kicks behind the three-point line.

In the Blast's 19-10 win at Kansas City on Friday, Simmons scored a three-pointer in the third quarter to put the Blast ahead to stay and then added a two-pointer in the fourth quarter. Those were his first goals of the season.

"You like to see a player get rewarded for hard work," Healey said. "And that's what was happening there with Ronnie."

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