Blast home, hoping to end Blizzard series

KiXX's Namazi chosen top defender

DaSilva leads All-Rookie team

NPSL playoff notebook

Soccer

April 12, 2001|By Glenn P. Graham | Glenn P. Graham,SUN STAFF

Four tense minutes in Buffalo:

Clinging to a one-point lead, the Blast got one final diving save from goalkeeper Scott Hileman, efficient defense when the Blizzard swapped its goalie for a sixth attacker, and, with all, a big reward - a 9-8 road victory on Saturday.

Welcome to the National Professional Soccer League playoffs.

The Blast returns home tomorrow night with hope of closing out Buffalo in the best-of-three opening round. And while getting the upper hand with a win in the first game was important, the team understands it's only the start of something it quickly wants to finish.

"Until we win again, nothing is done yet," said Blast midfielder Denison Cabral. "I take it this way: How good is it that we won [the first game], if we don't come back home and win? It's time now to close the door - lock the door."

The Blast is well aware that doing so won't be easy. The Blizzard was the league's most resilient team in the second half of the season, climbing from last place in the American Conference to second. And Buffalo won its last two regular-season visits to Baltimore.

"It gives us the advantage and a chance to wrap it up at home, but we know Buffalo ... will come in prepared to play," said Blast coach Kevin Healey. "We're going to have to win the game. They're not going to hand it to us."

Healey said the key will be more strong team defense. The Blast limited the Blizzard to just two points well into the third quarter on Saturday. Blizzard midfielder Danny Barber, who pestered the Blast throughout the regular season, was limited to just one assist, and dangerous forward Doug Miller was kept in check.

Scoring galore

Points were hard to come by in Buffalo, but there were plenty extra in the American Conference's other playoff opener in Harrisburg on Sunday.

Fourth-seeded Philadelphia got the early edge against the conference champion Heat with an improbable 21-19 overtime win. The series continues with the second game tonight in Philadelphia.

Chris Marinos scored the game-winner 2:31 into overtime after Pat Morris tied the game for the usually defensive-minded KiXX with just 19 seconds left in regulation.

"What a game - it was unbelievable," said Healey, who took the trip to Harrisburg to scout the game. "There were great goals, there were some bad goals, there were some mistakes. But as far as just a game to sit back and watch, it was really something."

Plus, Harrisburg's Gino DiFlorio went for the NPSL's cycle - putting up nine points on a three-point goal, a two-point goal, two one-point goals, and two assists.

Whether it's a high-scoring affair, as happened in Harrisburg, or defense first, as in Buffalo, the playoffs always bring something different.

"As hard as the guys play all year long, the playoff intensity is just another notch above it," said Healey.

The defending league champ Milwaukee Wave certainly showed that with a 22-7 win in its opener against Kansas City on Sunday. Forward Joe Reininger also got the NPSL cycle in the win - a three-point goal, a two-point goal, a one-pointer, and an assist giving him seven points. Fifteen cycles have been posted in NPSL playoff games since 1994, two last weekend.

In Wichita on Saturday, keeper Chris Damico turned aside 22 Toronto shots as the Wings evened their series with the ThunderHawks, winning 17-7. The third and deciding game is set for tomorrow in Toronto.

Namazi top defender

Philadelphia KiXX player/coach Omid Namazi, 35, has been named NPSL Defender of the Year. Namazi, who piled up 81 points - including 49 assists - and blocked a team-high 74 shots, won the honor for the first time in his five league seasons. Namazi's 79 points from coaches, reporters, and broadcasters in 10 league cities topped the 55 given Milwaukee's Glenn Carbonara.

Namazi recorded his 200th career assist, played in his 200th career game, and reached the 300-point plateau this season.

DaSilva top rookie

Kansas City forward Nino DaSilva, second on the Attack with 106 regular-season points, including a team-high 33 assists, was voted NPSL Rookie of the Year.

Others on the league's All-Rookie Team: forwards Greg Howes (Milwaukee) and Gabe Gervais (Toronto), defenders Alex Zotinca (Kansas City) and Chris Morman (Harrisburg), goalie Theo Zagar (Toronto).

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