With bye, Blast avoids pressure of 1-and-done MISL playoffs for now

Single-elimination rounds start tomorrow

finals now a best-of-five format

Pro Soccer

April 09, 2004|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

The Major Indoor Soccer League playoffs begin tomorrow with teams knowing there is only one directive: Be ready to play or be gone.

"It's really difficult," said Cleveland goalie Jim Larkin. "It's a whole season in one game."

Unlike other pro leagues, the MISL conducts single-elimination games in the quarterfinals and the semifinals. It's win or wait until next year.

"Last year, against Baltimore, we had an off night," said Larkin. "That meant we were packing our bags for the season and had a long time to get over it."

Cleveland, perhaps, can learn from last year's loss. The Blast was in Cleveland's position a year ago. It was the No. 6 seed with the worst record. The Blast won its two single-elimination games and went on to beat the No. 1-seeded Milwaukee Wave in a three-game championship series.

This season, Milwaukee is again the No. 1 seed with the Blast No. 2, both worth first-round byes. Both will begin play in the semifinals next Friday. They will face the survivors of the quarterfinal games - No. 3 Dallas vs. No. 6 Cleveland and No. 4 Philadelphia vs. No. 5 Kansas City.

Milwaukee will play the lower-seeded first-round winner, and the Blast will play the higher-seeded winner.

The two semifinal winners then advance to the finals, which have been expanded to a best-of-five series, between April 23 and May 9.

Commissioner Steve Ryan noted the expansion of the final series resulted from last season's Blast-Wave series.

"They proved in both Baltimore and Milwaukee that we could build media and fan excitement and television coverage," said Ryan. "Those clubs showed we could put fans in the seats."

Now, players and coaches are eager for expansion in the first two rounds, too.

"It is highly unfair for everybody," Dallas coach Tatu said of the one-game playoff. "It benefits the not-so-good team. The better team is not going to go through all the time. If my team wakes up game day and puts the wrong foot out of bed, it could be all over."

Tatu said he is worried because the Sidekicks are playing Cleveland, a sub-.500 team that beat his squad three out of four times this season.

"If we could chose the team we play out of all that qualified, Cleveland is probably the worst matchup we could have," he said.

Even in Baltimore, where the Blast used the one-game playoff to its advantage a year ago, goalie Scott Hileman said things are different now.

"Over an extended playoff, the best team usually wins out," said Hileman, whose team will be idle for nearly two weeks before playing its first postseason game. "Last year, we didn't have anything to lose. This year, we have more talent, but in a single-game elimination, anything can happen."

Still, he added, "I like our chances."

In Milwaukee, coach Keith Tozer said he is a fan of the first-round bye but objects to the playoff format.

"The single-game elimination, I do not agree with at all. You've played hard ... to make the playoffs, and then to play one game and be in or out, it's not right. In one game, a ball bounce, a ref's bad call, any number of little things can turn one game."

Ryan, the commissioner, said he is not unaware of the complaints or of the flaws in the one-game structure.

"It's a growing process," he said. "The playoffs are your showcase event. It's important they be well-attended. It's an economic issue in terms of the ability of our franchises to move quickly and sell out a championship event."

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