Blast can't help Kelly in debut as Cougars earn win

Problems with finishing and defense run team's losing streak to four games

Cougars 5 Blast 4

Pro Soccer

March 25, 2006|By JEFF SEIDEL | JEFF SEIDEL,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Danny Kelly received a big cheer when he walked onto the field about 45 minutes before the Blast's game with the California Cougars last night. Then, during the pre-game introductions, the Blast's new player/coach received a huge ovation from the crowd of 6,823 at 1st Mariner Arena.

But those moments proved to be the highlights of Kelly's evening. The Blast missed numerous scoring chances throughout and couldn't hold a fourth-quarter lead as California scored twice in the final period for a 5-4 victory.

The Blast (15-11), which has lost four straight, would have clinched at least a third-place finish in the Major Indoor Soccer League's regular season with a win.

California (9-18) stretched its league-best winning streak to five and completed a sweep of a home-and-home series with the Blast.

Kelly liked how his team played in the second half as it dominated for long stretches. The Blast had a 15-2 edge in shots in the third quarter, but couldn't finish and paid for some defensive breakdowns.

"I felt we were a little soft defensively at times, and it cost us," Kelly said. "We need to do a better job starting Sunday [against Philadelphia] and from here on out. There's no switch that you click that's going to say, `OK, boys, let's start playing better.' "

Kelly and others said they didn't think there was any fallout from the weeklong controversy over the suspension of coach Tim Wittman for an incident at the end of last Saturday's game in California, when he had contact with a game official and a penalty-box attendant.

The Cougars also said they were putting it in the past. Vicente Figueroa helped break up the incident with Wittman and the officials and scored a goal in last night's game.

"That's just a dead issue, and it was too bad it happened, but it's in the past," Figueroa said.

California's Dominik Jakubek came up big in goal last night, making 19 saves, including a diving stop of a shot by Robbie Aristodemo with 22 seconds left that would have tied the game. Time after time Jakubek made saves with various parts of his body.

The Cougars scored three straight first-half goals for a 3-1 lead. The Blast went more than 38 minutes without a goal before scoring three quick ones for a 4-3 lead with 10:38 left. Machel Millwood got the go-ahead goal with Carlos Garcia's second assist.

But John Ball tied it with 9:07 left on a high, 30-yard shot with Bernie Lilavois' assist. The pair combined for the game-winner with 2:22 left.

Ball was on the left side and sent a perfect cross that Lilavois headed past Blast goalie Sagu for his second goal and the 5-4 lead. The Blast had several chances in the final moments, but couldn't capitalize, leaving Kelly with a loss in his coaching debut.

"We started a little bit slowly," said Blast forward Adauto Neto. "In the second half, we played a little better, but we missed a lot of chances. [Kelly] doesn't want to change much. He wants to try and keep things the same [because] there's not much to change."

California 2 1 0 2 - 5

Blast 1 0 2 1 - 4

First quarter: 1. Blast, Bailey (Garcia) 4:02; 2. California, Figueroa (Abolji) 6:18; 3. California, Farber (Tovar) 14:12. Penalties: None. Second quarter: 4, California, Lilavois (Hall) 10:02. Penalties: None. Third quarter: 5. Blast, Neto (Wakefield) 12:12; 6. Blast, Bascome 14:42. Penalties: None. Fourth quarter: 7. Blast, Millwood (Garcia) 4:22; 8. California, Ball (Lilavois) 5:53; 9. California Lilavois (Ball) 12:28. Penalties: None. Shots-on-goal: California 6-5-2-5-18; Blast 6-4-15-4-29. Penalty kick conversions: California, 0 of 0; Blast, 0 of 0. Shootout conversions: California, 0 of 0; Blast, 0 of 0. Power-play conversions: California, 0 of 0; Blast, 0 of 0. Saves: California, Jakubek 19; Blast, Sagu 7, Tschantret 0. A: 6,823.

MISL standings

W L Pct. GB

x-St. Louis 19 5 .792 -

x-Milwaukee 17 8 .680 2 1/2

x-Blast 15 11 .577 5

Chicago 9 15 .375 10

California 9 18 .333 11 1/2

Philadelphia 6 18 .250 13

x-clinched playoff berth

Yesterday's result

California 5, Blast 4

Today's games

Chicago at Philadelphia, 7:05 p.m. Milwaukee at St. Louis, 2:05 p.m.

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