Needing wins, fading Blast faces three-game weekend

Soccer

MISL notes

March 01, 2002|By Glenn P. Graham | Glenn P. Graham,SUN STAFF

The Major Indoor Soccer League's regular season is two-thirds complete, and the Blast, at 13-16, finds itself in a fourth-place cubbyhole.

The team, which has lost four straight, trails third-place Kansas City (16-12) by 3 1/2 games and leads fifth-place Cleveland (9-21) by 4 1/2 - seemingly locked into the final playoff spot.

Three games in three days this weekend, starting with tonight's 7:35 matchup at Baltimore Arena with the second-place Philadelphia KiXX, will play big in deciding what direction the Blast may be moving. The first-place Milwaukee Wave comes here at 7:35 p.m. tomorrow, and on Sunday, the Blast travels to last-place Harrisburg.

With 15 games left, Blast coach Kevin Healey believes there's still plenty of time to catch Kansas City. The Comets also have three games this weekend.

"They have the advantage at this point, but it's a crazy league, and anything can happen. This is a big weekend, and we have to play it one game at a time and see what happens," he said. "We have to believe that we can move up, and we also have to be aware that Cleveland and Harrisburg can play well."

A positive weekend, particularly against the KiXX and Wave, could help restore confidence. The Blast is 1-6 against the KiXX and 1-5 against the Wave, its semifinal opponent if the playoffs were to start today.

"I try not to pay too much attention to the standings and just try to pay attention to how we're playing as a team. We haven't been playing too well lately," said Blast midfielder Paul Wright. "I'm sure there's a playoff spot there for us, whether it's fourth or wherever. I'm pretty confident we'll be there, and by then, hopefully, we'll have completely come together as a team."

Following tonight's game against the KiXX, a free Christian concert featuring Relient K will take place. During the first half, the Washington Freedom's Brazilian forward, Roseli, and Mexican midfielder, Monica Gerardo, will be on hand to sign autographs.

Relief for Hileman

Look for a first in goal for the Blast sometime this busy weekend: no Scott Hileman.

The All-Star keeper, who has started all 29 games this season and leads the league with 1,706 minutes played and 430 saves, will likely be rested with the Blast playing three games in three nights.

Backup Karim Mounbam, who was signed last week, is expected to get his first start, likely Sunday in Harrisburg. The Cameroon native has been practicing with the team since the season's start but only recently got a visa to work in the United States.

"We're confident in him," said Healey. "He's a great shot blocker with good foot skills, and he's learned the [indoor] game fairly well. It's just a matter of him getting more comfortable, but the players ... respond well to him."

With 15 games crammed into the next 44 days to close out the regular season, more starts should come Mounbam's way.

"We have to pick the proper time to give Scott rest, because no matter where we're at in the playoffs, it's one game, and we're going to want a fresh goalkeeper going into that game," said Healey.

Zotinca, Pappas honored

Kansas City defender Alex Zotinca was named Offensive Player of the Week, and Philadelphia goalkeeper Peter Pappas got defensive honors - each cited for the second time this season.

Zotinca, 19th in the league in scoring with 57 points, had three three-point goals, a two-pointer and an assist for 12 points in two Comets wins last weekend.

Pappas posted a 10.0 points-against average in two wins over the Cleveland Crunch.

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