Fun, wins on Blast minds at kickoff

With new vision, team opens with Force tonight


October 05, 2002|By Glenn P. Graham | Glenn P. Graham,SUN STAFF

Asked to assess what would turn the Blast season into a successful reclamation project, midfielder Paul Wright rattled off a couple of remedies and then paused before coming back with a third.

Wright, hoping the rest of the team will follow his lead, simply added it was time to have some fun again.

"Last year wasn't fun for me," he said. "And I know one thing: I'm going to be having a lot more fun this year. So I'll be dancing, talking a lot of smack and just enjoying myself out there."

Winning - something the Blast did not do enough of in going a disappointing 18-26 last season - can provide instant fun. The team expects the party to start tonight when the Cleveland Force comes to town for the 2002-2003 Major Indoor Soccer League season opener. Game time at First Mariner Arena, formerly the Baltimore Arena, is 7:35 p.m.

"It's very exciting just to get back and start the whole thing again," said All-Star midfielder Denison Cabral. "We know we have to fix those little mistakes that kept us away from the finals last year. As professionals, we have to learn from those mistakes and know all the other teams are coming back stronger, so we have to do the same."

Blast coach Kevin Healey stayed with the core group of players and said he believes the team has done well in addressing last year's problems.

During the offseason, the players worked hard on improving their fitness, the preseason camp stressed being more careful with the ball to avoid the soft goals that hurt the team last year, and Healey is looking for more goals to come during the flow of the game.

"It's a fine line so you can't look right now and say what's it going to take to get us over the top in the end of March and April," he said. "It's what do we have to do now to become a better team each and every game."

A powerful Blast offense that piled up 578 points led by Cabral (team-high 133 points) and Wright (104) should be even better with a healthy Danny Kelly and the addition of former Harrisburg Heat standout Gino DiFlorio. Kelly, the team catalyst at midfield, played in only 28 games last season because he was bothered by a stress fracture in his foot.

DiFlorio, appearing healthy after arthroscopic knee surgery in December cut short his season in Harrisburg, comes with an impressive resume that includes league Most Valuable Player honors two years back. With all that talent around him, something he didn't have as much of in Harrisburg, the 38-year-old veteran forward said he doesn't feel the need to produce MVP-type numbers.

"That's going to help me out tremendously because I don't have to say, `Well, I've got to score so-and-so goals and stuff like that.' We've got so many weapons out there that when we win and I don't get a goal or an assist, that's fine. It's when you lose a game by a point or so that you've got to put the pressure on yourself."

The Blast worked on better possession during the preseason, and doing so more carefully to avoid the unexpected shots that came keeper Scott Hileman's way last season.

That will help what should be a sturdy back line led by Defender of the Year Sean Bowers, team captain Lance Johnson and Rookie of the Year Billy Nelson.

"Defense always starts with your forward and works its way down. I think we're going to play better team defense this year," Bowers said. "People are working harder defensively and, when we get the ball, I think we're keeping it longer. The possession of the ball is critical in this game and the more you have it, the more you can create your tempo."

Forward Tarik Walker said reducing mistakes would do wonders.

"Last year, we made a lot of little mistakes that ended up turning into big problems - it was like a tumbleweed that just got bigger and bigger," he said. "This year, if those mistakes happen, we're going to try to nip it in the bud as soon as possible. Finishing 18-26 just didn't cut it and we need some wins early and some confidence early."

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