Blast's playoff hopes take a 7-3 beating from Crunch

Visitors build a 5-1 lead over champs by halftime

Pro Soccer

April 02, 2005|By Rick Belz | Rick Belz,SUN STAFF

The Blast's hopes for a Major Indoor Soccer League championship threepeat grew dimmer last night at 1st Mariner Arena with a crushing 7-3 loss to the Cleveland Force before 6,429.

The Blast trailed fourth-place Cleveland by 2 1/2 games for the last playoff spot, and the winner gained what amounted to a two-game swing.

The Blast (13-19) now trails by 4 1/2 games with seven to play, one each against league-leading Milwaukee and second-place Philadelphia and two more against fourth-place Cleveland. Cleveland has eight games left, four against teams that now trail it.

FOR THE RECORD - The nickname of Cleveland's Major Indoor Soccer League team is the Force. A headline in yesterday's editions called the team the Crunch. The Sun regrets the error.

The teams met for the sixth time this season, with the Blast winning the first three and the Force taking the last three.

The Blast, its roster thinned by four injuries, three of them season-ending, and its leading scorer Chile Farias traded to St. Louis after breaking team rules, fought gamely to remain alive in the playoff race.

But the Force (17-14) proved more opportunistic, taking advantage of a Blast defensive mistake by Danny Kelly to score a demoralizing third goal off a kickoff, and then scoring its fifth goal with one second left in the second period off a penalty kick from the top of the arc. Robbie Aristodemo slipped a pass to Aaron Susi on the right side, and Susi's shot found the net at the near post for a 5-1 Force halftime lead.

"We put in a lot of work in the first half but weren't intelligent about it," said captain Tarik Walker. "We pressed forward to score and let them get behind us, and it cost us goals."

Giuliano Celenza tried to rally the Blast in the third period, scoring at the 7:24 mark and setting up David Bascome's seventh goal this season at 13:52, cutting Cleveland's lead to 5-3.

But the Blast, which struggled to finish in the first half and had poor luck with one shot off a post and another shot off a Cleveland player's backside, had dug too much of a hole.

Cleveland remained hot, winning for the sixth time in eight starts.

A March 29 deal that sent Neil Gilbert and Allen Eller from Baltimore to Cleveland paid off for the Force when Eller scored the game's first goal off a beautiful banked pass off the boards from Chris Handsor, the first of three first-half assists by the Cleveland forward, who played for the Blast last season. Eller had beaten his defender down the field and was unguarded. He also scored a second goal.

"It doesn't feel good after training with them all season," Eller said. "It's tough for [the Blast]. They really needed to win this game."

To which Blast coach Tim Wittman added: "That's a tough loss, no doubt about it. But we have to play Philadelphia Sunday, and we're not just going to quit."

Cleveland 1 4 0 2 - 7

Blast 0 1 2 0 - 3

Goals: Cle. - Eller 2, Susi 2, Martinez, Ball, Sutton; Blast -Celenza, Nelson, Bascome. Assists: Cle. - Handsor 3, Ball, Aristodemo; Blast - Celenza, Walker, Sibiya. A - 6,429.

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