7 teams, Blast included, in jam for 5 playoff spots

Berth can be clinched vs. Crunch tomorrow

Soccer

NPSL notebook

March 23, 2001|By Glenn P. Graham | Glenn P. Graham,SUN STAFF

Looking for parity? You've come to the right place.

With just two weeks left in the regular season, only three National Professional Soccer League teams have secured playoff invitations - Harrisburg, Milwaukee, and Toronto - leaving five spots for the remaining seven teams.

That's precisely what makes teams such as Buffalo and Detroit so dangerous this time of year.

The Blizzard (18-17 but 8-2 in its past 10 games) has worked out of last place in the American Conference.

And the Rockers (12-23, one game behind Kansas City) are making a late run to get out of the National Conference cellar.

So while the Blast (21-15 and a game behind Harrisburg in the American Conference) was looking to regain a share of the conference lead Tuesday night, the Rockers were in survival mode, which produced a 15-12 upset at Baltimore Arena.

With just four games left in the Blast's regular season, do the recent home woes bring reason for alarm?

"No, not really. I'm not concerned at all. I still believe in our team. I think we've got the best team out there," said goalkeeper Scott Hileman. "We've just got to do the job, put ourselves in a good position for the playoffs, and then take care of business at that point."

The Blast will get a chance to right itself - and clinch a playoff berth - with a win at 7:35 p.m. tomorrow over the visiting Cleveland Crunch, the defending American Conference champion, which finds itself in last place at 17-18 - one game back of resurgent Buffalo.

From there, the Blast finishes the season on the road with two Philadelphia trips flanking a March 30 trip to against first-place Harrisburg pivotal in the Blast's chance of recovering the top seed.

Award-winning Rockers

Recently acquired forward Domenic Mobilio and goalkeeper Paul Shepherd have led the Detroit Rockers in a late-season bid for the playoffs.

Mobilio racked up 17 points in three games, all won by Shepherd, as the two players earned Offensive and Defensive Player of the Week honors, respectively.

Mobilio, traded from the Philadelphia KiXX on Feb. 20, posted a seven-point performance in a 23-20 overtime win against Milwaukee in between two five-point efforts in victories over Toronto. In nine games since joining the Rockers, Mobilio has 19 goals and six assists for 40 points to run his season total to 106 points.

Shepherd made 24 saves in a 12-11 win at Toronto on March 14. Following a 23-20 overtime win against Milwaukee on Friday, he turned back 18 of 24 shots in Saturday's 17-12 win against Toronto.

The Rockers (12-23) have won four straight games to move one game back of Kansas City for the National Conference's fourth and final playoff spot.

Hot scorers

When announcing the signing of rookie forward Giuliano Celenza last month, Blast coach Kevin Healey said the hometown product always scored at big times, wherever he was playing. Nothing has changed. In seven Blast games, the Archbishop Curley grad and UMBC standout has 11 points off five two-point goals and an assist - and three game-winning goals.

Forward David Bascome became Harrisburg's all-time leading scorer (732 points in nine seasons) with a two-point goal Saturday - also the 10-year vet's 300th goal.

Blast playoff tickets

Tickets for the Blast's first home playoff game - April 6 or 7 - are on sale at Baltimore Arena and Ticketmaster outlets, by calling 410-481-SEAT, or online at www.ticketmaster.com. Prices: $12 to $18.

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