Blast's playoff ride has Wave in the way

Though 1-7 vs. Milwaukee, team says it has a shot

Soccer

April 19, 2002|By Glenn P. Graham | Glenn P. Graham,SUN STAFF

Attached to the Milwaukee Wave are imposing numbers:

Two straight championships, three in the previous four years and a first-place finish in the Major Indoor Soccer League this season that included a 22-0 home mark that made league history.

No doubt impressive, but here are the only numbers that interest the Blast: one game, 60 minutes.

The teams will meet at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee tonight in a one-game semifinal.

From there, one team will go home and the other will move on to the MISL best-of-three championship series to face either the Philadelphia KiXX or Kansas City Comets, who play the other semifinal tonight. It's that simple, and that's how the fourth-seeded Blast (18-26) likes it.

"We know the format benefits us," said Blast defender Iain Fraser. "One good win, and we could erase a lot of the negative stuff that's happened this season. And it's 60 minutes - that's it. Let's put it this way: It can't be comforting for them."

The Blast had virtually no success against Milwaukee (34-10) this season, going 1-7, including four losses at the Bradley Center. With veteran goalkeeper Victor Nogueira (league-best 9.50 points-against average) directing in back, and a balanced offense, led by 131-point scorer Joe Reiniger, the Wave likes to get out fast and then play a possession game at its pace.

One of the keys for the Blast will be getting in the way of the Wave's game plan.

"We've got to come out and jump all over them," said Blast keeper Scott Hileman. "I think if we can disrupt some of the stuff they like to do, we can get them to question their system a little bit, and then look out. I like our chances."

Another key for the Blast is staying away from soft goals, something it didn't avoid this season. Taking care of the ball in the defensive end was a priority Blast coach Kevin Healey stressed in practice this week.

"One of Milwaukee's strengths is [its] energy and their ability to pressure the ball. We can't give up balls in our defensive end," said Healey. "We'll sacrifice possession, but also we got a plan [in which] we know in certain situations where we want to be. So if a guy is sending a blind ball out, the forward is supposed to be there. So maybe we keep possession because of that, and maybe we get a counter because of that."

If the Blast can take a defense-first, up-and-back commitment to Milwaukee, there's plenty of veteran talent and speed to go with a couple of tricks Healey has saved for the postseason.

The team will look to midfield catalysts Paul Wright and Danny Kelly, both of whom sat out the final two games in Milwaukee late in the season, to provide the spark, with Denison Cabral (team-high 133 points) expected to keep on scoring.

The Blast was the last team to beat the Wave in Milwaukee, a 22-16 win last season on March 17. This time, the stakes are higher.

"I think everybody is feeling good," said Healey. "The more you get a team prepared, the more confident they'll be, and I think this is what we're seeing right now."

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