Arena's tight quarters should ignite scoring explosions


Cleveland coach Kai Haaskivi, whose team plays here tomorrow at the Arena, watched the Blast lose in Kansas City Friday and then made two observations that are turning out to be prophetic.

* First, teams are going to have to change their thinking when they're up by margins like 4-0 or 5-1, and realize the game is a long way from being over.

* And second, the rules that have expanded the goal by 30 percent and put defenders at a disadvantage on free kicks, with a 15-foot margin between them and the ball, are going to be felt more severely in the Baltimore Arena than anywhere else in the league. That's because it's the smallest field in the league.

"I think when teams get ahead by four goals, they think the game is won," said Haaskivi. "They think that, because that's the way it has been. They think at 4-0 or 5-1 they have gotten to a point where they wanted to get, and they play a little more defensively -- which brings those big goals back into play again."

"Everybody has to remember, nobody is secure any more," said St. Louis coach Don Popovic.

What Haaskivi saw Friday in Kansas City, where the Comets came back from a 4-0 deficit to beat the Blast in overtime, 7-6, was nearly identical to what the 8,753 fans at the Arena witnessed Saturday.

Down 4-0, the Blast came back for a 13-9 victory against the St. Louis Storm. It is the largest goal production in the Major Soccer League this season, and says something about Haaskivi's other point: Teams playing in the Arena will feel the rule changes more because the field is so small.

"The bigger goal in Baltimore has to be a bigger difference," said Haaskivi. "In most arenas, the shooting starts at the red line. In Baltimore, I won't be surprised if some players begin shooting at the half-way line."

"The biggest thing coaches face," said Blast coach Kenny Cooper, whose team is now 1-2, "is getting it into players' heads that the game is totally different . . . By the end of the season, the goalkeepers might all be going to group therapy."

* PLEXI-PERPLEXING: Another change at the Arena came into play Saturday. The plexiglass that extends around the ends of the playing field and behind the goal is higher this year.

Three times balls that would have gone out of play last season dropped in front of Blast forwards Mobilio (twice) and Tim Wittman, who turned and fired into the net for scores.

"I know we lost and I love to win," said St. Louis keeper Slobo Ilijevski. "But I think the larger goals are the best rule change we've ever had in the MSL. It means big goals, lots of shots, rebounds, lucky goals, unlucky goals, a big challenge and a lot of fun for the fans."

* STARS' GOALIE SHINES: One goalie who has escaped the scoring barrage is Tacoma's Chris Vaccaro. He has allowed just 11 goals in four games for a 2.75 goals-against average.

Two weeks ago, when Tacoma coach Keith Weller said he believed his team would be better this season without all-star midfielder Preki, few believed him. Now, the Stars are on top of the Western Division with a 3-1 record and people are taking another look.

Saturday, the Stars beat Dallas, 3-2. It was Tacoma's third 3-2 game.

With veterans Ralph Black, Joe Waters, Billy Crook and newly acquired Fred Thompson, formerly of the Blast, Tacoma is playing the tightest defense in the league.

"I know it is plenty early in the season," said Weller. "But I feel pretty good. We've been behind in games and came back. We've been even and come back. And we've won on the road."

Tacoma's 3-1 record is also the Stars' best start ever.

* CLEVELAND CRUNCHED: The Crunch (1-1) did not have to worry about getting too far ahead yesterday afternoon, as it lost in Kansas City, 3-2.

Comet Jan Goossens scored twice, including the game-winner, and assisted on K.C.'s other goal, by Paul Peschisolido. Goossens is now within one point of Dale Mitchell's team record point total of 359.

As for Mitchell, he scored his second goal of the season Saturday for the Blast, his first one in front of the hometown fans.

* A NEW START: Former Blast defender Glenn Carbonara has been picked up by the San Diego Sockers, and Friday night scored two goals in the Sockers' first win of the season, a 7-5 decision over Wichita.

* TOP OF THE CHARTS: In one night, Blast midfielder Billy Ronson jumped onto the league-leading scorers chart at No. 3. He had one goal and six assists Saturday, bringing his three-game total to 10 points, behind only the Storm's Preki (15 points; nine goals, six assists) and Wichita's Dale Irvine (13 points; nine goals, four assists).

Forward Domenic Mobilio, who has played in only two games, is fourth among goal scorers. His four goals Saturday raised his total to five.

* THE EYES HAVE IT: Blast midfielder Joe Barger, whose eye was irritated Saturday night by ash during the pregame opening, was fine yesterday.

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