Blast tries to forget, start over

Pro soccer


The Blast doesn't exactly enter the Major Indoor Soccer League playoffs on a roll. The team lost its final two regular-season games, suffered a bunch of late-season injuries and must meet a Milwaukee Wave team that won four of six head-to-head meetings this season.

But player-interim coach Danny Kelly and his team feel just fine heading into Game 1 of the MISL semifinals at 8:05 tonight at 1st Mariner Arena. The team has had a two-week break, the majority of those injuries have healed and there's not much about defending champion Milwaukee the Blast doesn't know.

Game 2 is set for 7:05 p.m. tomorrow in Milwaukee. If the teams split the contests, the series will be decided by a "golden goal" format in an overtime period at the end of Game 2. The winner of this series meets the winner of the St. Louis Steamers-Chicago Storm series for the championship next weekend, also in a two-game format. Top-seeded St. Louis holds a 1-0 lead in that series, with Game 2 tonight at home.

The Blast lost to Milwaukee in the 2002 semifinals but rebounded to beat the Wave in 2003 and 2004 to win the MISL championships. Milwaukee then beat the Cleveland Force for last season's title, and the Wave and Blast had several close games this season.

"We've had some battles in the past," Blast general manager Kevin Healey said. "These are two organizations that have a lot of respect for each other."

Both teams also struggled at season's end. The Wave dropped its final five games to finish at 17-13. Injuries slowed the Blast as it lost the final two games with several players sitting out - and it also finished 17-13. Milwaukee got second place over the Blast - due to its better head-to-head record - and the option to host Game 2 and the possible "golden goal" format.

But the Blast players and coaches are ignoring how the season ended for both teams. Kelly said injuries to himself, Wendell Regis, Machel Millwood and Jonathan Steele are better now, and all four can dress.

"We've had two weeks in between games here, and it's given us the time to get everyone healthy," Kelly said. "The regular season is done, and this is a whole new season now."

This series will feature three-time defending league scoring champion Greg Howes of Milwaukee. Howes led the MISL with 70 points in 28 games. Teammate Todd Dusosky was third in the league with 57 points and gives the Wave a potent pair of forwards the Blast must watch.

But the Blast is pretty confident it knows what Milwaukee will show on the field, as the teams have met plenty in recent years.

"The key with them is they're very systematic," Blast forward David Bascome said. "They move in sync on offense and defense. They do it well, and they keep beating you up with it."

Bascome and Kelly both emphasized the importance of the Blast's playing team defense and not getting caught out of position. That happened several times in the season finale, a surprising 8-2 loss on the road against the Philadelphia KiXX. However, the injuries and new players made the Blast look out of sync.

But the Blast also must be able to match the Milwaukee offense. Adauto Neto finished second in the league in scoring (58 points) while Giuliano Celenza led the league in goals (38) and was fifth in points (46).

"We're going to have to be very disciplined," Neto said.

Blast tonight

Matchup -- Milwaukee Wave @ Blast, MISL semifinals Game 1

Time -- 8:05

Radio -- 680 AM

Outlook -- These teams enter the playoffs after slipping at season's end. The Blast battled through injury problems and lost its last two and a shot at second place. Everyone is mostly healed now, including player-interim coach Danny Kelly, who helps anchor the defense. Adauto Neto (58 points, second in league) needs have a big series, as does teammate Giuliano Celenza (league-best 38 goals). The Wave dropped its last five regular-season games, but with three-time scoring champion Greg Howes (70 points) and Todd Dusosky (57, third) leading the attack, Milwaukee is tough to defend. In addition, the Wave won four of six regular-season games against the Blast.

Jeff Seidel

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