The Blast has the second-best record in the National Professional Soccer League and five of its players were named to the American Conference All-Star team yesterday. But none of those five will be starters in the game in Buffalo, N.Y., on Feb. 14.
"Last year, we only had one player and felt we were underrepresented," said Blast coach Kevin Healey, who will be the assistant coach for the American Conference because the Blast's 13-6 record is second to Philadelphia's 14-4 mark. "This year, we have five. I'm pretty pleased and pleased for all of them."
A year ago, midfielder Denison Cabral was the Blast's lone All-Star, and he was a reserve player then, too. This year, Cabral, the team's leading scorer with 70 points, leads the NPSL in goals with 39 and in power-play goals with seven. He'll be on the reserve squad with fellow Blast forward Danny Kelly, goalie Scott Hileman and defensemen Doug Neely and Lance Johnson.
Only Toronto, an expansion team with an 11-7 record that is in first place in the National Conference, had more players selected, sending six to the game.
"No one knows to this day why I was the only one picked last year," Cabral said. "This year, it's right in front of everybody. The Blast is among the top three teams in the league. It was too much for them to not choose more of us. We have a great record. We have players who have been showing their talent for two years, showing they deserve to be on this team. There is no way to hide it.
"I thought there would have been more of us."
Philadelphia KiXX goalie Peter Pappas, Cleveland Crunch mid- fielder/forward Hector Marinaro and Harrisburg Heat midfielder/forward Gino DiFlorio were the top vote-getters with 18 points each. They will start for the American Conference with Harrisburg mid- fielder/forward David Bascome, Crunch defenseman Scott Schweitzer and Buffalo Blizzard defenseman Carlos Zavala.
In the National Conference, Detroit Rockers midfielder/forward Sean Bowers and Wichita Wings midfielder/forward Braeden Clout- ier led all point-getters with 16. Also making the starting lineup were Wichita defenseman James Dunn and three Toronto ThunderHawks - goalkeeper Paolo Ceccarelli, midfielder/forward Mauro Biello and defenseman Nevio Pizzolitto.
The two All-Star teams were chosen by the votes of the head coach and general manager of each team. In a case, such as with the Blast, where the head coach is also the general manager, the assistant coach voted.
The American Conference team will be coached by Philadelphia's Omid Namazi and Healey, while the National team will be coached by Toronto's Gary Hindley, with Wichita's Kevin Kewley assisting.
It seems the Blast's strength is its weakness when it comes to All-Star selections. The Blast appears to be one of those entities whose whole is greater than its parts.
Johnson, who is second on the Blast with 20 blocks and second among defensemen with 16 points, brushes off his selection as "no big deal." He points out "a bunch of our guys got slighted last year" and thinks that might be the case again now. "If you really think about it, someone from our team should be starting." But he acknowledges the Blast is a cooperative team.
"Denison and Scott are our only real standout guys," he said. "We win because we pool our talent."
Kelly, the Blast's fourth-leading scorer with 41 points, is a nine-year NPSL veteran and he, too, reflects the attitude that has perhaps kept a Blast player out of an All-Star starting lineup.
"It feels good because it's nice to be recognized, but I don't have personal goals," Kelly said. "When we're winning, I'm happy."
"I think it must be a lifetime-achievement award," said Neely (19 blocks, 10 points), laughing as he recalled his 15 indoor soccer seasons (the last seven with the Blast).
Still, all of them are happy for Hileman. It is his first All-Star appearance - Neely's been selected four times, Johnson and Kelly three times and Cabral twice.
"Scottie got snubbed last year," said Kelly. "It's just desserts that he got voted on this year. That guy, he's won games all by himself for us back there."
(All-Star rosters, 4c)