WICHITA, Kan. -- Defense traditionally has been the Baltimore Blast's strongest area and the major factor in the team's two straight division championships. But shoddy defense cost the Blast on Saturday in its Major Soccer League opener, an 8-3 loss to the Wichita Wings.
On defense, the Wings (1-1) supported Ron Fearon's outstanding goalkeeping performance by blocking shots and burning the Blast on quick counterattacks.
"Defensively, we played on our heels," Baltimore coach Kenny Cooper said. "They put their chances away, but we added to that, which is uncharacteristic of our defense."
"I've seen the same players making the same mistakes [in four preseason losses]," Cooper said. "If they continue to make them, they won't play. My 6-year-old son could tackle harder than we did.
"Five guys played with pride, five guys came along for the ride and five guys were looking to hide. That's not enough to win."
Baltimore leads the overall series, 26-16, but 14 of those losses have been at the Kansas Coliseum. The Wings have won seven straight home openers.
They rattled the Blast early, grabbing a 4-1 halftime lead and adding another goal 1 minute, 9 seconds into the second half. Baltimore cut the lead to 5-3 but was stymied by the Wings' defense.
Baltimore scored on only one of three power plays, and that goal came after Fearon blocked a timid shootout attempt by Richard Chinapoo. Billy Ronson was wild on an open-net shot that could have cut the lead to 5-4.
Domenic Mobilio, Baltimore's leading goal scorer in 1988-89 and 1989-90, was shut down except for the power-play goal. All-Star newcomer Dale Mitchell, third in the league in goals last season, managed six shots, but none of them dangerous.
"We didn't quite play to Dale's strengths," Cooper said. "We have to get him the ball earlier and quicker. We have adjustments to make. Part of that's timing; part of it's playing more."
Wichita's newcomers, however, made an immediate impact. Four goals were scored by first-year players, including two by Steve Pittman.
Pittman blasted a 25-foot free kick to open the scoring and knocked in Victor Moreland's bounce pass for the final margin. Brad Smith scored with a quick turn move on the Blast's Mark Mettrick that gave the Wings a 6-3 lead late in the third period.
The Wings' Danny Pena, another rookie, punched in Dale Ervine's long outlet pass, as Pena outraced Chinapoo that gave Wichita its 4-1 halftime edge.
"I'm extremely disappointed, both personally and as a team," Chinapoo said. "At times, I don't think we were in the flow of things. We need to tighten up defensively.
"But give them credit. They broke off fast and beat us up the floor a few times."
Wichita's defensive play followed an ineffective showing in a 10-6 loss at St. Louis on Friday night.
"We broke down defensively last night, and it was important tonight to pick that up," said Fearon, who finished with 14 saves, many on point-blank shots. "We kept them out at the right times and got a couple of early goals which gave us a lift."
The early goals evidently frustrated the Blast. Three players were called for three fouls in the first half. One more on any of the three in the half would have resulted in a two-minute penalty under the league's new foul rule.
* Blast midfielder Tim Wittman said last night that Dr. Joseph Ciotola, the team physician, would be giving him a physical examination today and that if he passed, he would expect to practice tomorrow.