Blast has healthy outlook for season's last six games

Injured players' return bolsters playoff drive

NPSL notebook

Soccer

March 15, 2001|By Glenn P. Graham | Glenn P. Graham,SUN STAFF

There are six games left to jockey for playoff position and, just as important for the Blast, six games left to play together as a complete unit.

The injuries that have bothered the team over the past month or so appear to be healed. Leading scorer Denison Cabral (shoulder) is all but certain to play at Milwaukee on Saturday, and Danny Kelly (groin) is probable after missing more than a month.

Since Kelly's injury, the Blast has added veteran David Vaurdreuil and rookie Guiliano Celenza. The return of Kelly and Cabral will leave coach Kevin Healey with the question of whom to have in uniform for the games.

"It's going to be interesting. Healthy competition is exactly what it's going to create and it will give us depth that we'll need," Healey said. "Getting everyone back, on the same page and working together again is vital."

Three teams in

Harrisburg, first in the tight American Conference, and National Conference front-runners Milwaukee and Toronto have qualified for the postseason.

The Heat (22-14) has a one-game lead over the Blast (20-14), with the Philadelphia KiXX (18-14) two games out of first.

Here's a team-by-team breakdown of the American Conference with two weeks left in the regular season:

Heat: Clearly in the driver's seat with all four games left at home. Harrisburg will close the regular season with a visit from the Blast on March 30.

Blast: Four of its remaining six games are on the road - two games at Philadelphia in between the date with Harrisburg.

KiXX: A tough stretch of five games in 10 days starts tomorrow at Harrisburg. Philadelphia still has eight games left.

Buffalo Blizzard: At 17-17, one game in front of the Cleveland Crunch for the final playoff spot. All six games left are against Philadelphia, Cleveland and Harrisburg.

Crunch: Last year's conference champ is struggling but will get its chance with two games left against Buffalo.

"It's wide-open right now," Healey said. "We're just trying to get the best seed possible, get in the playoffs. We're confident, a pretty good road team, and if it turns out we're not in first place, it's a new season at that point and we'll be ready."

Marinaro's deal extended

NPSL all-time leading scorer and six-time MVP Hector Marinaro, 36, signed a contract extension that should keep him in Cleveland for the rest of his career.

The deal, believed to be the largest in NPSL history, runs through the 2002-03 season with a club option for the following two seasons. Terms were not disclosed.

Biello, Petras tops for week

Toronto midfielder Mauro Biello (20 points in three games) was chosen Offensive Player of the Week, and Harrisburg goalkeeper Doug Petras claimed defensive honors.

In an 11-point performance against Milwaukee on March 6 - a 21-9 Toronto win - Biello went for the NPSL's version of the cycle, finishing with three-, two- and one-point goals along with an assist. Biello is 10th in the league in scoring with 100 points.

Petras turned away 33 of 43 shots in wins against Detroit and Buffalo. The Heat veteran leads the league with 21 wins and a .739 save percentage.

Et cetera

Blast forward Lee Tschantret notched his 400th career assist against Buffalo last Thursday. ... Milwaukee's 10-8 overtime win against visiting Philadelphia on Saturday was the longest Wave game ever at the Bradley Center. Sipho Sibiya's game-winning two-pointer came at the 83:04 mark. KiXX keeper Peter Pappas surpassed 10,000 career minutes .

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