Blast's Walker turns up his game

Playoff time brings out best in veteran forward

March 20, 2004|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

A fight between Blast teammates Chile Farias and Allen Eller had to be broken up, Lee Tschantret tried to block a shot and got kicked in the head for his effort, and Tarik Walker collided with another player in the goal box, taking the brunt of the blow in the ribs.

And this was only a practice.

It made Walker almost jolly.

"It's getting close to the playoffs," said the forward, smiling about the testiness being exhibited by his teammates. "The intensity is picking up, and tempers are flaring."

Walker lives for this time of year. Other players may be dragging from a long season, but over the past four seasons, Walker's statistical output has nearly doubled down the stretch and into the postseason, where his 51 points are one shy of teammate Dennison Cabral's on the team's all-time playoff points list.

"Last season, I know he turned it on toward the end," said Blast coach Tim Wittman. "He was one of our MVPs. We needed him to win the championship, and he came through big time with size and strength."

Walker, the National Professional Soccer League's Rookie of the Year with Baltimore in 1993, has played on nine teams in six cities over his 11-year career. The past five years, he has been here, and the Blast has made the playoffs four times.

His increased passion is already showing. In the Blast's first 26 games this season, Walker averaged .73 of a point. In the past five, the number is 1.8. Both numbers mirror his play over the past four seasons: .75 of a goal during the regular season, 1.19 in the postseason.

The regular season has just five games left, including tonight's game in San Diego and tomorrow night's in Monterrey, Mexico.

"When the postseason is coming and the excitement builds and the pressure is on me, I really feel it inside," said Walker, 6 feet 2, 195 pounds. "I don't really know how to describe it. It's just a hyper-energy that has to come out."

This feeling began developing, said Walker, 32, when he was about 5 and his dad, Tyrone, a soccer All-American at Howard University, started taking him to the field.

"My dad had a lot of drive," Walker said. "He was a guy who instilled the desire to strive for perfection and the perfect game - which is still yet to come.

"The day I can look back and say I played the perfect game, I'll hang it up. You can score three or five goals in a game but still have made mistakes. ... We all strive for it, but it's next to impossible to achieve."

And yet it could be said Walker comes close. It's no accident that championships and individual awards have followed him: Virginia Tech's MVP his senior year, last season's MISL title with the Blast, a U.S. Indoor Soccer League title with the Baltimore Bays, and the 1994 Continental Indoor Soccer League title with the Las Vegas Dust Devils.

Though Walker's scoring pace picks up in the playoffs, Wittman said his target man produces throughout the season, though not always in goals.

"There is so much energy in his body, but with his size and physical makeup, he can only go so much every day," Wittman said. "He's almost like a quarterhorse or like a heavyweight boxer. He can't do what a long distance runner can do. ... But he's big and strong and capable.

"There are some players [at] this time of year, you look in their eyes, and you know they don't want to be here. Tarik does, and when he does well, it helps the whole team."

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