Blast hoping to finish KiXX

Win tonight will give team its first berth in NPSL title series

Soccer

April 28, 2001|By Glenn P. Graham | Glenn P. Graham,SUN STAFF

With one big offensive punch -- 23 points worth -- the Blast has given the defensive-minded Philadelphia KiXX plenty to think about.

The KiXX made a commitment to shutting down leading scorer Denison Cabral on the power play, so Mark Thomas came up with a big goal.

The KiXX decided not to send a second defender on target forward Tarik Walker when he's on the ball, and he took advantage with four timely goals.

The KiXX seemingly forgot about midfielder Danny Kelly, who added seven points.

All that took place in the Blast's 23-19 win in the NPSL's American Conference final opener last Saturday, and with the second game of the best-of-three series tonight in Philadelphia, the KiXX must find some answers.

"You're not going to shut them down completely," said KiXX coach/defender Omid Namazi. "In the regular season, they were the No. 1 scoring team in the league. What you have to do is minimize each player's production. Individually, we all have to take care of our responsibilities."

Easier said than done.

"The beauty of our team is you can't go in with a game plan to take just one or two players away, because we can beat you with different players, and we can beat you in different ways," said Blast coach Kevin Healey.

In sweeping the Buffalo Blizzard in the first round and then getting the first win against the KiXX, the Blast has studied its opponent as well as put in extra time on specialty play.

It's paid off, and now the franchise is one game away from its first NPSL championship appearance.

Of the 23 points the Blast put up in Saturday's win (the most allowed by the KiXX all season), nine came off restarts, two came from power plays, and two more were shootout goals.

With the game still scoreless in the final two minutes of the first quarter, the Blast took full advantage of the game's first penalty -- getting a shootout goal from Cabral followed by the power-play goal from Thomas for a 3-0 lead that was extended to 11-0 at the half.

"The restarts and the power play is just practice," said Cabral. "We did more practice this year than the last two years together on restarts and the power play, and we have so many different options as far as finishing we are very confident."

The Blast defense also did its share in the first game against the KiXX, which came out hard at the start of the game and going into the second half.

Defending against restarts was a key for the Blast against the KiXX in the first half, and after it broke through with a 12-point third quarter -- cutting the lead to 16-12 at one point -- the Blast put its foot down.

"They're going to bring everything they have," said Blast keeper Scott Hileman, who finished with 31 saves in Game 1. "I think it's probably going to be a lot like the second half. But I still think we have the best team, and if everybody on our team does their jobs, regardless of what they do, we just have to pay attention to all the small things that we've been doing all along."

Playing at the more spacious First Union Center tonight, the Blast would like to exploit its team speed, led by midfielder Paul Wright.

"We're going to be on a bigger field, so we should be able to use our team speed to try to outwork them at midfield and get more scoring chances there," said Walker.

For the KiXX, which finished with a league-low 11.2 points against average behind co-Goalkeeper of the Year Peter Pappas, there's no changing now.

"At this point, if your system is not right you're in trouble," said Namazi, the NPSL's Defender of the Year. "We have to keep to our game plan and execute better. We got to be tight, pressure them [at the defensive end] more so they're not getting the best balls to their targets. When they're under pressure, it's not as easy for them to execute on their end."

Blast tonight

American Conference finals (Best-of-3; Blast leads 1-0) Opponent: Philadelphia KiXX

Site: First Union Spectrum, Philadelphia

Time: 7:05

Radio: WCBM (680 AM)

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