It's character-testing time for Blast

Postseason berth isn't all that's on line in team's concluding four games

Pro Soccer

April 15, 2005|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

Blast defender Nate Houser remembers his torturous rookie season. It was 1993-94. He was a member of the National Professional Soccer League champion Kansas City Attack.

Sounds great, but it wasn't. The year after winning the NPSL title, Kansas City had new injuries every week. Serious injuries. Broken legs. Operations. It had so many new players passing through, it was hard to learn their names before they appeared on the injury list.

And it suffered the ego-busting blow of finishing last in the league.

"I learned a lot that season," said Houser after the Blast had finished its last practice before tonight's game with the visiting Kansas City Comets. "It was just like what the Blast has been through this season. ... It was a case where it just wasn't going to happen."

The Blast, which won the Major Indoor Soccer League championship in 2002-03 and again last season, is down to four games and in danger of missing postseason play. It could also finish last in the standings, just like the 1993-94 Attack, now the Comets.

To make the playoffs, the Blast has to win all four games and then wait to see what the Cleveland Force, Chicago Storm and St. Louis Steamers do. Lose once and hope is gone.

The Blast and Comets are tied for last place in the seven-team league.

"For us, the playoffs start right now," said Blast forward Giuliano Celenza. "Each of these last four games is a one-game series, and we have to win them all. If we just take it game-by-game and just do our job, then whatever happens, happens. We will have done all we could."

The Blast hasn't won four straight this season, but coach Tim Wittman said the entire team knows what's on the line. And each player has to find his own motivation.

"Whether we win [tonight] or lose, everybody has a couple things to play for - to win the games and pride," Wittman said. "And if they want to continue to play in this league, they still have to give their best because someone is always watching - me, another coach, our owner, another owner.

"Even if we lose and the prospect of postseason is no more, there still has to be some type of motivation."

To Wittman, the worst thing that could happen is to be swept in the four games.

"That," he said, "would be awful. That would indicate something's not right; that the character is missing. Do I think I've got a team with character? I'll tell you after these four games what kind of players we have."

Wittman doesn't worry much about how this team finishes in comparison to last season's champion, though.

"One season has nothing to do with the other," he said. "In 2003-2004, we were the best. We proved it. This year, it was a new team and we haven't earned anything."

But, he added, turmoil and trouble "shows you who will show up and who will let up. I'll be watching every one of them to see who makes character plays, not pretend plays. I'll be looking for next year's players."

Houser remembered something he heard actor/comedian Bill Cosby say about losing.

"Cosby said losing intensifies your personality," Houser said. "Every day here at practice, as the games dwindle, I see Danny Kelly working harder and harder, pushing everything. The guys here have won back-to-back championships. That tells you a lot about them right there, because winning back-to-back is the hardest thing.

"The rest of this season just comes down to being a professional. You take pride in what you do. You realize someone respects you enough to give you a paycheck and, most important, are the fans, people who were willing to pay to watch you."

Tonight, the Blast must perform well, and Houser said there is no reason to think it won't.

"OK," he said, "the situation is not ideal. But if you don't think you can win, why even bother to play? We believe we can win one at a time. You can't tell me the guys here can't win. Absolutely we can. And we don't have a choice. We have to win."

Blast tonight

Matchup: Kansas City Comets (15-20) vs. Blast (15-20)

Site: 1st Mariner Arena

Time: 7:35 p.m.

Radio: WCBM (680 AM)

Outlook: The Blast has to win its last four games and then hope for help from other teams to have any chance at making the Major Indoor Soccer League playoffs. Against Kansas City, the Blast faces a team equally as desperate and one that beat the Blast at Kemper Arena last weekend. The Comets are led by Dino Delevski (29 goals, 51 points) and Vlatko Andonovski (17 goals and 42 points). In goal, Sanaldo (17 starts, 6:02 goals-against average) and Chris Damico (18, 6:19) have split the duties. The Blast will be without Denison Cabral, Adilson De Lima and Carlos Garcia (knee operations); Marcos Chantel (groin surgery); Tarik Walker (ankle); and Joel Bailey (groin). Wendell Regis (groin) is questionable.

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