Slide to cellar costs Crunch coach his job

Last-place Cleveland fires Miller

Blast set for Blizzard's storm

NPSL notebook

Soccer

March 07, 2001|By Glenn P. Graham | Glenn P. Graham,SUN STAFF

Following a disastrous, rock-bottom weekend that led to the basement of the NPSL's American Conference, the Cleveland Crunch fired coach Bruce Miller and replaced him with assistant George Fernandez on an interim basis.

Miller went 149-85 in his five-plus years in Cleveland, guiding the Crunch to two NPSL championships and a runner-up finish last season.

Looking to get younger, Cleveland released three veterans prior to the season (including prominent forward Zoran Karic) and have since battled injuries throughout.

Just now healthy, the Crunch lost road games to American Conference rivals Harrisburg, the Blast and Philadelphia over the weekend to fall to 15-17 and last place - one game behind Buffalo (16-16) for the final playoff spot.

With just eight games left in the regular season, Crunch president and general manager Paul Garofolo felt a change was needed, but it was tough.

"I have a great deal of admiration for Bruce. He truly served this company well during his tenure and I will miss our interaction on a daily basis," Garofolo said.

Miller released a statement through the team's media relations department: "The ownership is committed to winning and feels that a dramatic change is required to get the team on track and into the playoffs. I understand their decision."

Fernandez came to the Crunch at the start of the season after spending the past two seasons as coach in Buffalo. After going 22-18 in the 1998-99 season, the Blizzard was 14-18 last season before being replaced by current coach Paul Kitson in February.

"Our backs are against the wall. I think we've showed in the past that that's when we play our best and, hopefully, we can prove that again," Fernandez said. "I think these eight games are going to be some kind of evaluation if some of these [players] are going to be here next year, so I believe this is good motivation for guys to pick up their games."

Buffalo making charge

Buffalo's road victories against Philadelphia and the Blast over the weekend had Kitson not only talking playoffs, but also about the fact that his team is only three games out of first place in the American Conference.

The Blizzard has won eight of its last 11 and can get even closer to the top with the Blast - currently tied for first with Harrisburg - coming to Buffalo tomorrow night.

The Blast will try to reassert itself against the Blizzard, which has taken the last three games and four of six this season.

"It's important, but it's not an end-all game, because we're confident against every team in this league," said Blast coach Kevin Healey. "It provides a challenge for us to go up there and show that we can come back and beat them in their building. I think, more than it may increase our confidence, it may take their confidence down a little bit."

Joining Danny Kelly and Denison Cabral on the Blast's injury list is defender Derrick Marcano, who is expected to miss just tomorrow's game with an ankle injury. Defender Jeff Clarke will return to the Blast in place of Marcano.

Marketing is goal

Continuing its marketing push under new league commissioner Steve Ryan, the NPSL has retained the services of SME Inc. - a firm that specializes in sports-oriented brand-building projects.

SME will develop new primary and secondary marks for the NPSL, as well as marks for its major events such as conference and league championships. It has completed over 1,000 brand-building projects throughout the sports industry, working with, among others, Major League Baseball, the NHL, NBA and NFL.

"We feel the NPSL must better position itself to fully communicate the excitement and vitality of its product," Ryan said. "The re-branding initiative will help us aggressively market the league to our fans, the media and the corporate community. There is no company better-suited to help us accomplish that goal than SME."

DiFlorio, Finnerty honored

Harrisburg forward Gino Di- Florio had a big weekend scoring and Buffalo goalkeeper Bryan Finnerty did plenty of stopping as the two earned Offensive and Defensive Player of the Week honors, respectively.

DiFlorio led the Heat to a 2-1 week with 14 points in the three games, including a nine-point performance (one three-point goal, two two-pointers and two assists) in a 19-12 win over Wichita on Saturday.

He's tied for second in the league in scoring (113 points) with teammate David Bascome.

Finnerty has played a major role in the Blizzard's surge out of the American Conference basement.

After turning aside 14 of 17 shots in a 8-6 win at Philadelphia on Saturday, Finnerty saved 15 of 18 in Baltimore on Sunday for an 11-7 win that put the Blizzard at 16-16 and one game in front of Cleveland for the fourth and final playoff spot in the American Conference. Finnerty leads all keepers with 1,907 minutes played this season.

Miscellaneous

Blast defender Jason Dieter had his 400th career block in the Blast's 22-11 win over Cleveland on Saturday. ... The NPSL's all-time assist leader, Karic, released by Cleveland at the start of the season and recently acquired by Kansas City, has 11 points (two two-pointers, seven assists) in five games with the Attack.

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