Blast's bid for 1st turned back

Rockers knock Baltimore game behind leading Heat

Soccer

March 21, 2001|By Glenn P. Graham | Glenn P. Graham,SUN STAFF

It's coming down to the final few games in the regular season and the Blast is battling for the home-field edge. Lately, you have to wonder why.

A chance to move side by side with Harrisburg atop the National Professional Soccer League's American Conference went for naught last night, and it came against a last-place team.

The Detroit Rockers, trying to work their way out of the National Conference cellar, came to Baltimore Arena with a greater sense of urgency and left with a 15-12 win.

Surrendering 11 points in the second quarter left a hole too big to work out of for the Blast, which is now asking itself what needs to be done to win a big game in its home building.

With four games left, the Blast fell to 21-15, one game back of the Heat (23-15), and a not-so-intimidating 12-7 at home. In its last two games at the Baltimore Arena, the Blast was coming off momentum-building wins, only to see inferior competition come in and enjoy success. An 11-7 home loss to the Buffalo Blizzard, fourth in the American Conference, occurred on March 4 to end a three-game winning streak. This time, a satisfying 22-16 road win at Milwaukee on Saturday was quickly negated with last night's poor showing in front of 2,045.

The Rockers (12-23) won for the fourth straight time to move one game back of Kansas City for the last playoff spot in the National Conference.

"We could have walked out percentage points in first place after tonight and we let that slip away. We're disappointed about that," said Blast coach Kevin Healey. "You need to win at home. I don't know what it is, but we need to put on good performances in our home facility, and we haven't done that two straight times now."

Playing well going into the playoffs is a priority for the Blast, which didn't come close to that in a second quarter in which Healey said his team inexcusably and uncharacteristically didn't commit to playing defense.

Despite the poor first half, which saw it down 13-6 at the break, the Blast was able to get within striking distance only to have goalkeepers Paul Shepherd and Alan Placek, who came in for the final 11:50, keep the Rockers on top.

Shepherd (14 saves) left the game after successfully doing anything he could to keep shots from Danny Santoro and Lee Tschantret out of the goal and the Rockers leading 15-10. Then, Placek (seven saves) came in to make diving saves on Danny Kelly and Lance Johnson.

After Denison Cabral (three goals) scored with 4:49 left to cut the lead to 15-12 with 4:49 left, it was the Rockers doing the attacking, before the Blast sent Kelly on as an extra attacker with 1:40 left.

Kelly had a three-point crank go just high; Paul Wright and Santoro had clean takes turned aside; and then Tschantret and Wright again had last chances turned aside with 20 seconds left.

Despite the loss, the Blast remains in position to take the conference by winning three of its last four games, including a March 30 date at Harrisburg. Should the Heat lose both of its remaining two games, the Blast would only need two wins in its last four with the tiebreaker on its side. Cleveland, last in the American Conference, comes to Baltimore on Saturday.

"Right now, we can't think about the other teams. We just have to get it together and be focused for Saturday," said Cabral. "I think we'll be fine. I'm sure everybody knows their responsibilities and what needs to be done. We just have to keep working hard."

"I just think we didn't play very well collectively in the first half. We gave them a chance to get up on us and it was too much to make up," said Blast goalie Scott Hileman.

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