Kelly back as Blast tries again to ignite

3-game weekend begins tonight as team clings to final MISL playoff spot


March 22, 2002|By Glenn P. Graham | Glenn P. Graham,SUN STAFF

The Blast gets back the sure hands of goalkeeper Scott Hileman and the powerful left foot of forward Tarik Walker tonight, but more importantly, a big part of the team's heart -Danny Kelly - comes back, as well.

The playmaking midfielder, 33, who has missed 12 games with a hairline foot fracture, will do his part to jump-start the struggling Blast (14-20) as it begins a three-game weekend tonight against the Philadelphia KiXX at the Baltimore Arena.

The team will then play back-to-back games against the last-place Harrisburg Heat, traveling up Interstate 83 tomorrow night before coming back home for a 3 p.m. Sunday start.

The plan for Kelly (33 points in 22 games this season) is to see how things go tonight and, hopefully, play one of the two games against Harrisburg, not wanting to do too much too soon. He said his foot has felt "OK" through a good week of practice, but an actual game - with its higher speed - brings a different challenge.

"Danny Kelly is such a big part of this team," said Blast coach/general manager Kevin Healey. "First, he's an outstanding indoor soccer player and has been for years, but he also gives us that fire on the field. He organizes defensively, helps us keep the ball offensively and adds intangibles with the intensity he brings."

Losing eight of its past nine games, the Blast is now only two games in front of the surging Cleveland Crunch (13-23) for the fourth and final playoff spot in next month's Major Indoor Soccer League playoffs.

Injuries, suspensions and inconsistent play have led to the Blast's prolonged downfall.

But with suspended players Hileman, Walker and Dewan Bader (due back tomorrow) returning along with Kelly and the signing of veteran defender Ronnie Simmons, the team hopes this is its chance to steady the boat.

"If we can bring a good work rate every single shift of the game, we're going to give ourselves an opportunity to win. I don't think we've given ourselves that opportunity in a lot of these [past] games," said Kelly. "So that's my major thing - I'm going to go out and bust my butt to help this team win and make sure my teammates do the same thing when I'm on the floor."

The unexpected numbers game that has developed for fourth place still favors the Blast. While it plays five of its final 10 games at home, the Crunch, winners of its last four, has six of eight on the road, including the last five.

Healey is looking to turn the late-season urgency into a positive for the playoffs.

"This can be a character-building time for us, and when we do what we need to do, we're going to be more prepared than ever going into the playoffs," he said.

Said Blast veteran forward Lee Tschantret: "This is kind of where you see character in people -- who's going to quit, who's going to bicker, who's going to keep working hard. Everyone is sticking together, so hopefully, things will turn around. We're still in it, so you have to go with the `due theory' - because we're definitely due."

The first order of business is trying to solve the second-place KiXX (24-12), which has taken seven of eight games from the Blast this season. Expect the Heat (8-28) to have a little extra incentive this weekend with the way things ended (a post-game brawl that resulted in seven player suspensions) the last time the Blast was in Harrisburg on March 3.

"We can't worry about who's winning or who's losing - we just basically need to worry about ourselves," said Blast defender Sean Bowers. "Right now, our emotions should be on Philly - they've beaten us seven of eight, so we owe them. And once [tonight] is over, then we can start thinking about Harrisburg."

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