Scorers have some big goals to attain


Cleveland player/coach Kai Haaskivi flashes a big smile.

"I think the shooting will start as soon as we get to the red line," he said.

The 1990 Goal Rush is on.

Bigger goals -- 30 percent bigger goals -- have league forwards wide-eyed in anticipation.

Bigger goals combined with a rule requiring a 15-foot gap between the ball and all defenders on free kicks have defenders wide-eyed in apprehension.

"It's going to be difficult," said the Blast's Mark Mettrick. "It is going to be a lot harder to cut the angles."

Surely, even Dr. Watson wouldn't need Sherlock Holmes to determine change is afoot in a major way in the Major Soccer League.

From the sidelines, those changes look like great fun.

Goals, goals and more goals. At least early on. During preseason, the average number in a game went from 8.06 to 11. The highest output in league history is 11.99, in the MSL's first year of existence.

The record could be broken.

But San Diego's Victor Nogueira, who may be worn to a frazzle by the end of the season as the Sockers' only goalkeeper, can sleep soundly at night knowing his league record 2.86 goals-against average set in 1988-89 is safe -- at least until the next rule change.

Former Socker Steve Zungul, who holds virtually every league scoring record -- including most goals in a season, 108 -- also probably can rest easy, since that outrageous performance came in 1980-81 BD, Before Defense.

Some goalkeepers, like the Blast's Scott Manning, say the rule changes will have very little effect on how they play, because the way they play copes with the changes. Some others, like Dallas' Joe Papaleo and St. Louis' Slobo Ilijevski, may be hesitant to change what has brought them to the top of their craft.

But other, younger keepers who are only a year or two into full-time play, like the Blast's Scoop Stanisic and Wichita's Ron Fearon, relish the change that will make their strengths -- willingness to come off the goal line and footwork -- even more valuable assets.

"Definitely, we're going to have to be more willing to play out of the box, throw our bodies around and use our feet," said Stanisic. "I think the height is really going to be more troublesome than the width. There is still a chance to make the plays at the far post, but it is very difficult to get your hands up quickly enough to stop high shots."

The goal is going from 12 feet by 6 1/2 feet to 14 feet by 7 1/2 feet. Just what the goal-size change will produce remains to be seen. But here are a couple guesses:

* With the extra foot in height, lobs and headers will become

more prevalent.

* With the space between the ball and defenders on free kicks, corner kicks and kick-ins increased from 10 to 15 feet, the action in the attacking third of the field will become a variable goal mine. Look for curve balls from the corner, open shots from the sides and attempted high kicks to the far post.

That's only the beginning. Just wait until the most creative offensive minds in the game start mining the opportunities. The rush is on.

* A SWEET DEAL: The Blast signed Leaf Inc., of Bannockburn, Ill., one of the nation's largest manufacturers of candy and gum, to an advertising agreement worth about $50,000 this season and perhaps a whole lot more in terms of MSL support next year.

The company already spends approximately $10 million in major-league baseball and sees soccer as a natural outlet for its advertising, given surveys indicating the number of young people who play soccer to be greater than those who play baseball by a 12-to-1 margin.

* THESIS FOOTNOTE: Blast forward Tim Wittman spoke to the MSL Players Association yesterday and then signed an addendum to his contract. The agreement then was faxed to MSLPA Director John Kerr.

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