OPPONENTS — After raising its 2002-03 Major Indoor Soccer League championship banner at 1st Mariner Arena last night, the Blast got a good look at what's expected to lie ahead for the defending league titlists.
Opponents - last night the rival Philadelphia KiXX - will be coming with their best.
With a stellar, 20-save performance from goalkeeper Peter Pappas and two goals from Joel Shanker, the KiXX were able to come away with a 5-3 win to spoil the Blast's season opener and Tim Wittman's head-coaching debut before 8,522.
Some of the Blast's new offensive talent contributed, with a goal coming from David Bascome and an assist from ex-KiXX player Chris Hansor, but nobody was a match for Pappas.
"Pappas was the difference - he was the best player on the field," said Wittman. "What I'm not happy with is it was a big night with a big crowd and we should have won this. I'm happy with the effort ... but at the end of the day, you have to put the ball in the net."
With the game tied at 2 at the half, the KiXX came up with the necessary offense in the third quarter and then turned things over to the Pappas-led defense.
Midway through the third, two goals less than a minute apart from Shanker and Don D'Ambra provided the visitors with a 4-2 lead it wouldn't relinquish.
Bascome was able to get one goal right back to make it 4-3 with 5:56 left in the period, but that's how things stayed until Shanker hit a half-volley off a pass sent across from Goran Vasic to put the KiXX up 5-3 with 8:30 left in regulation.
Just before Shanker's insurance goal, Blast forward Giuliano Celenza hit a blistering, point-blank shot from in front that Pappas somehow turned aside.
"I thought it was in, but Pappas made the fingertip save to knock it out," said Celenza. "I thought that save gave them the momentum to score and go up two goals."
With Danny Kelly on as the extra attacker with 3:10 to play, the KiXX stayed firm to improve to 2-0 for the season.
Bascome said it was just a matter of playing more consistently, something he's confident will come as the team finds its chemistry.
"We have the talent. It's just a matter of putting everything together, that's basically it," he said. "When you've got so much talent on the field, it's just a matter of learning all the guys' different personalities. There's just some things we have to tidy up on."
NOTES: The pre-game ceremony included a video presentation recapping last season's final series against Milwaukee and an impressive laser show as the banner was raised to the rafters. Retired defender and former team captain Lance Johnson received an ovation when introduced and a bigger one when he displayed the championship cup. ... Newcomer Carlos `Chile` Farias, acquired in a trade with San Diego, served a one-game suspension last night as a result of a ruling in last season's playoffs. ... The Blast will play five of its next seven games at 1st Mariner Arena, with the expansion St. Louis Steamers next in town on Friday.
Philadelphia 0 2 2 1 - 5
Blast 1 1 1 0 - 3
First quarter: 1. Nelson, (Handsor), 7:24. Penalties: none.
Second quarter: 2. Philadelphia, Vasic, 4:02; 3. Philadelphia, Roberto, (Lunsford), 9:50; 4. Blast, Walker, (Cabral), pp., 14:25. Penalties: Philadelphia, Boney, (tripping), 12:51.
Third quarter: 5. Philadelphia, Shanker, (Vasic), 7:19; 6. Philadelphia, D'Ambra, (Sloan), 8:24; 7. Blast, Bascome, (Walker), 9:04. Penalties: none.
Fourth quarter: 8. Philadelphia, Shanker, (Vasic), 6:30. Penalties: Philadelphia, Aldrich, (five-minute misconduct), 10:13; Blast, Kelly, (holding), 14:29.
Shots on goal: Philadelphia 2-13-6-4 - 27; Blast 8-12-7-10 -37 .
Power-play opportunities: Philadelphia 0-for-1; Blast 1-for-1. Goalkeepers: Philadelphia, Pappas, 23 shots, 20 saves; Blast, Hileman, 12 shots, 7 saves. A - 8,522.