Blast thinking momentum

With playoffs three games away, Kelly looks to oil team gears

Pro Soccer

March 31, 2006|By JEFF SEIDEL | JEFF SEIDEL,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The Blast knows exactly where it stands heading into tonight's regular-season home finale against the St. Louis Steamers.

The Milwaukee Wave (17-10) holds a one-game lead over the Blast (16-11) for second place in the Major Indoor Soccer League. The Wave also has the tiebreaker, so the Blast basically needs to win its three remaining games and hope Milwaukee loses at least two of three.

That's the Blast's best chance of having the home-field advantage when the teams meet in the first round of the playoffs.

But player/interim coach Danny Kelly and his players aren't terribly worried about whether they finish second or third. The Blast has to win two games, anyway, in the postseason's first round and feels it matches up well with Milwaukee.

Kelly and the players now think it's important to use the final three regular-season games to keep sharpening their defense and playing with the confidence showed in Sunday's 6-2 win over Philadelphia. That victory broke a four-game losing streak and pleased Kelly, mainly because the team played the kind of consistent defense he likes.

"We have to keep playing hard, working together, getting up and down the field and playing good team defense," Kelly said. "I think we have enough good offensive players that if we play good team defense, we're going to create turnovers .. .and with the guys that we have, we're going to put some of those opportunities away and give us a chance to win games."

Against the KiXX, the Blast repeatedly caused turnovers that led to breakaways and good scoring chances. But it also consistently got back on defense, "getting five guys behind the ball" and stopping the KiXX from counterattacking and creating odd-man breakaways.

Kelly said he will continue to preach that message in practice and in the next three games.

"No team is going to win a championship without playing solid team defense," he added. "We have to continue to do that this weekend and heading into the playoffs."

The Blast indeed wants to be playing consistently as it tries to continue its recovery from the four-game losing streak that featured shaky defense and the suspension of coach Tim Wittman.

"I don't think that second or third matters," defender P.J. Wakefield said. "I think just getting on a good winning streak going into the playoffs is what you want. You want to be on a high going in."

The Blast could be meeting St. Louis at the right time. The Steamers will be playing the second of three games in three days, and since they've already clinched first place, the question is how long its top players will be on the field.

But regardless, the Blast wants to finish the season with a strong effort and be on a roll heading into postseason play as it bids for a third championship in four years.

"It's very important to play these three games strong to [give] you confidence for the playoffs," goalie Sagu said. "I hope the team continues like we played against Philadelphia. Right now, we're concentrating on the three games left."

Blast tonight

Matchup -- St. Louis Steamers (21-6) @ Blast (16-11)

Time -- 7:35

Radio -- 680 AM

Outlook -- The Blast must win all of its final three regular-season games to have any chance of overtaking Milwaukee (17-10) for second place and the home-field advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Player/interim coach Danny Kelly wants his team to play consistent defense, which it did in Sunday's 6-2 win over Philadelphia that ended a four-game losing streak. Adauto Neto and Giuliano Celenza have been two of the league's top scorers all year, and Machel Millwood is coming on. Sagu continues to play solidly in goal. First-place St. Louis is in the midst of a stretch of three games in three days. The Steamers suffered their first home loss yesterday morning against Philadelphia. St. Louis has won three of the five games against the Blast this season, but each team has done well offensively against the other at times. Shaun David scored three goals and former Blast forward Chile Farias had four assists when the teams last met on Feb. 20, a 9-7 St. Louis victory.

Jeff Seidel

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