NPSL playoffs

April 07, 2001|By Glenn P. Graham

American Conference

No. 3 Blast (22-18) at No. 2 Buffalo Blizzard (22-18)

Tonight: Opener of best-of-three series, 7:35.

Regular-season series: Blizzard won, 5-2

Outlook: After spending the first half of the season in the conference basement, the Blizzard moved boldly into second with a 15-5 streak. Strong play against Baltimore helped. Buffalo won its last four games against the Blast, three at HSBC Arena. This marked the first time Buffalo won the season series since the franchises joined the NPSL in 1992-93. While the Blizzard picked up steam in the season's second half, the Blast battled injuries that resulted in inconsistent play. The Blast is as healthy as its been since the season's start. Denison Cabral led the Blast attack and was fourth in the league with 134 points, Paul Wright had 103, and keeper Scott Hileman posted a 12.25 points-against average. The Blizzard's veteran keeper Bryan Finnerty went 8-1 with a 9.04 points-against in March to claim Defensive Player of the Month honors. Offensively, Doug Miller (118 points) was the only Buffalo player to surpass 100 points this season. This is the teams' first postseason meeting.

No. 4 Philadelphia KiXX (22-18) at No. 1 Harrisburg Heat (24-16)

Tomorrow: Opener of best-of-three series, 6:05.

Regular-season series: Heat won, 4-3

Outlook: After finishing 16-28 and out of the playoffs for the first time in franchise history last year, the Heat celebrated its 10th anniversary by tying for the league's best record with defending champion Milwaukee. Despite losing the season series, Philadelphia outscored Harrisburg, 106-91, in seven games. In its regular-season finale, a 12-9 loss to Buffalo, the KiXX didn't appear concerned about a potential first-round matchup against Harrisburg, choosing to rest top scorers Don D'Ambra, Kevin Sloan, and Goran Hunjak and, thus, falling to fourth. Heat forward Gino DiFlorio, March's Offensive Player of the Month, was second in league scoring with 142 points. Heat goalkeeper Doug Petras led the National Professional Soccer League with 23 wins and 683 saves. Stopping opponents is what the KiXX do best with goalkeeper Peter Pappas second in the league with a 10.57 points-against average. In two wins against Harrisburg, Philadelphia limited the Heat to just four points per game.

National Conference

No. 4 Kansas City Attack (14-26) at No. 1 Milwaukee Wave (24-16)

Tomorrow: Opener of best-of-three series, 8:05 ET.

Regular-season series: Wave won, 5-2

Outlook: The Attack had to fend off last-place Detroit to gain the final playoff spot. After a 1-6 start, defending champion Milwaukee did some catching up of its own, surpassing Toronto for the conference's top seed. Any talk about the Wave starts with six-time NPSL Goalkeeper of the Year Victor Nogueira, who was 21-11 with a league-best 9.76 points-against average. Baltimore native Matt Tirschman finished second on the team in scoring with 90 points. The Attack is led by Clovis Simas (120 points), rookie Nino DaSilva (105), and Wes Wade, one of the league's finest two-way defenders. Another Attack player to watch for is the league's all-time assist leader, Zoran Karic, who has 36 points in 12 games since being signed as a free agent. Karic helped Cleveland win three championships in the 1990s.

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