Blast tries to make titles a habit

With a bolstered offense, goal is to repeat in MISL

Soccer

October 11, 2003|By Glenn P. Graham | Glenn P. Graham,SUN STAFF

Longtime Blast defender Jason Dieter, now an assistant under new head coach Tim Wittman, was sitting around after practice the other day, talking about how fortunate he was to end his playing career last season on top.

In the deciding game of the Major Indoor Soccer League championship series in Milwaukee - where the Blast had beaten the Wave just twice in his 10 years of playing - the home team led, 12-4, late in the third quarter, with nearly 13,000 fans ready to celebrate.

"I'm looking at the clock, thinking: `I'm definitely not going to quit. I'm going to do everything I can to help out. But 12-4? Come on,' " said Dieter. "And then, all of a sudden ..."

The Blast - in a microcosm of its turnaround season - battled back by scoring nine straight points and then fended off the stunned Wave in the final minutes to come away with a 13-12 win that produced the franchise's first title in the new MISL.

That is the act the 2003-2004 Blast must now follow, beginning at 7:35 tonight when it takes on the rival Philadelphia KiXX at 1st Mariner Arena.

"For the whole summer, we had the good feeling of waking up and knowing we won the championship," said All-Star midfielder Denison Cabral.

"We know there's a lot of responsibility now - people are going to have more respect for the Blast - and we have to take this as a new season."

And there's plenty new to go with the new season.

Along with Wittman taking over for former coach Bobby McAvan, the offense is juiced up and the defense has some big shoes to fill.

The Blast traded three-time league Defender of the Year Sean Bowers to the San Diego Sockers for gifted scorer Carlos "Chile" Farias, picked up versatile midfielder David Bascome when the Harrisburg franchise ceased operations and then worked a deal with the KiXX to snag forward Chris Handsor.

Team captain and always steady defender Lance Johnson retired and goalkeeper Brett Phillips was sent back to the St. Louis Steamers, which leaves most of the goalie chores to Scott Hileman.

"We lost some key character players that were also key defenders and also have to see how the new guys fit in," said veteran Danny Kelly, who will move back to defense from midfeld.

"We're working hard to accomplish the same things that we acomplished last season, and if we continue to work hard, I think we can reach the same place."

Putting all the pieces in the right place will now be up to Wittman, who came on as an assistant under McAvan at midseason.

With Farias, Bascome and Handsor adding to a flavorful offensive mix featuring Cabral and newly appointed team captain Tarik Walker, Wittman is banking on more goals and more late leads.

The depth and versatility the new players bring give Wittman plenty of options. Identifying each player's role will be an ongoing process.

"We've got some new guys that were the best players on their teams. And some of them may not have the same role here that they had there," said Wittman.

"That's going to be different and I think what happens when you come to a successful team like this, players accept that and end up playing better."

After spending the previous 12 seasons in Harrisburg as the focal point, Bascome sees an ideal opportunity to fit in here, with a shot at a championship.

"Myself coming in, Chris Handsor and Chile Farias is just to add to what they have, and we have to respect what's there and enjoy the game with them," Bascome said.

"I want to win - that's what it basically comes down to for me. You're playing this game for so long with the desire and passion and you want to complete the task. And for me, completing the task is winning a championship."

Around the MISL, with the Heat ceasing operations and the St. Louis Steamers and Monterrey Fury aboard, the league will consist of nine teams competing in three divisions this season.

The Blast will play in the Eastern Division with the KiXX and Cleveland Force. The Central Division will include the Wave, Steamers and Kansas City Comets. The Western Division will consist of the Sockers, Fury and Dallas Sidekicks.

Six teams will qualify for the playoffs, with the first-place teams in the three divisions and the next three teams with the best records advancing.

The league's scoring system also has been altered, with each goal counting just a point, instead of the two- and three-point goals of previous seasons.

Blast tonight

Matchup:Philadelphia KiXX (1-0) vs. Blast (0-0) in Blast's season opener

Site:1st Mariner Arena

Time:7:35

Radio:WCBM (680 AM)

Pre-game:Celebration of the Blast's 2002-2003 Major Indoor Soccer League title.

2003-2004 Blast roster

Coach: Tim Wittman

Player Pos Ht Wt DOB

Dewan Bader D 5-10 160 4/8/71

David Bascome F 5-11 155 1/29/70

Denison Cabral M 5-4 160 1/26/74

Giuliano Celenza F 5-6 155 12/20/78

Rich Daughtridge M 6-0 176 3/9/76

Allen Eller M 5-9 160 12/11/76

Carlos Farias F 5-6 155 5/15/76

Carlos Garcia F 5-9 176 5/13/81

Neil Gilbert D 5-9 180 1/29/69

Chris Handsor F 6-1 190 8/26/03

Scott Hileman GK 6-1 176 11/5/72

Danny Kelly M 5-9 155 3/7/69

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