Blast aims to slow Buffalo's series roll

Blizzard's turnaround earns 5-2 season edge

Indoor Soccer

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

The Blast always had known what to expect when going up against the Buffalo Blizzard: a tough battle, but - more times than not - a positive result in the end.

That abruptly changed in the 2001 portion of this season's schedule.

With some slow starts and other poor stretches, the Blast lost its last four meetings to the Blizzard, as well as the season series, 5-2, for the first time in franchise history, dating to the 1992-93 season.

With the opening round of the National Professional Soccer League playoffs starting tonight in Buffalo, the Blizzard certainly has the Blast's full attention for the best-of-three series.

"We've always handled Buffalo - not easily, always good battles - but it just seemed we always came out on top," said Blast midfielder Danny Santoro. "Now, they've taken care of us five out of seven, so we just got to tighten up. Obviously, it's a different mind-set now with the playoffs here."

The teams took different paths to the same 22-18 mark, Buffalo winning the tie-breaker to take second place in the American Conference and the Blast settling on third.

The Blast started fast, then, hit with injuries, struggled to the regular-season finish line. It was just the opposite for the Blizzard, which started to click midway through the season to make a strong surge from last place.

Buffalo coach Paul Kitson, who made 11 roster moves from last year's team, said it took time for his team to gel.

"Knowing that I made so many changes, it's quite obvious that chemistry is a very important part of any team in professional sports," said Kitson, a former Blast player and Maryland Mania coach. "It took us a little longer than expected to get that chemistry together, but we've gotten to understand one another's roles a little better than earlier on in the season."

Working on adjustments with a good week of practice and coming in healthy, aside from the season-ending knee injury of defender Jason Dieter, the Blast goes to Buffalo prepared and confident.

"We have looked at the tapes and tried to determine where we can do a little bit better against Buffalo," said Blast coach Kevin Healey. "But we have to take care of ourselves. And part of [that] is picking up our intensity and our work rate. Let's just not match their intensity. Let's beat it - that's going to be our attitude going into this game."

In forward Doug Miller, midfielder Danny Barber and defender Carlos Zavala, the Blizzard has a solid base, but the Blast has an edge, player for player, and results will come down to who wants to win more. In the later stages of the regular season, the blue-collar Blizzard often showed more intensity with a greater sense of urgency.

"They have a lot of heart," said Blast midfielder Denison Cabral, whose 134 points led Baltimore in scoring. "As far as individual players, we have more experience; we have more skills. But we have to go in and match up with their intensity, and we'll be fine."

The return of veteran midfielder Danny Kelly, who missed 15 games in the second half of the season with a groin injury, will be a big boost for the Blast. Kelly and fellow midfielder Paul Wright, who finished with 103 points, will be most responsible for containing Barber, who burned the Blast for 24 points in seven regular-season games.

Wright said avoiding defensive mistakes will be another key.

"Going over what has happened on the goals they've scored, they've all been mistakes that we've allowed - not clearing the ball out, not staying with our runners," said Wright. "So if we cut down on the mistakes, we'll be fine."

But Wright - one of four Blast players who has been on an indoor title team (forwards Tarik Walker, Lee Tschantret, and Mark Thomas are the others) - believes the Blast will be fine.

"We're a very confident team," he said. "I don't think there's any doubt in my mind that we're going to take care of Buffalo. We can't wait to get up there and get this thing started."(NPSL playoff schedule, 5c)

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