Unsung heroes Spreading wealth around, star-less Stars are too rich for Blast


If the Blast could play like anyone it wanted, it might wish to play like the Tacoma Stars.

"Tacoma is a good team that gets all five guys behind the ball," said Blast midfielder Tim Wittman. "They don't care who gets the credit. Everybody is working for everybody and when a team plays like that, they're hard to beat."

And the Blast definitely wanted to beat Tacoma. After beating Wichita 9-6 Saturday, Baltimore had closed within 1 1/2 games of Eastern Division-leading Kansas City. The table was set to make the race even tighter.

But last night, the Stars, who have no real star on their roster, came into the Arena with the best record in the Major Soccer League at 9-5, and showed why it is no fluke.

For the entire 60 minutes, Tacoma played a disciplined, hard-working style that resulted in a 5-3 victory. It was the lowest combined scoring in any Blast game this season.

"We all got to see the Blast play Wichita Saturday," said Tacoma coach Keith Weller. "Our main plan was to stay in it close. We saw Baltimore was a very organized side off the boards, but we caught them at the right time. The ball didn't roll for them tonight like it did Saturday."

Tacoma, of course, had something to do with that.

Tacoma relishes low-scoring games. The Stars have a league-low production of 67 goals in 15 games. They also have the No. 1 goalkeeper in Chris Vacarro, who is giving up only 4.22 goals a game.

But to the Blast (8-7), whose 96 goals are second only to St. Louis' 104, it came as something of a shock in the cozy confines of the Arena.

"They play a physical game and they're not afraid to danything," said Blast defender Mike Stankovic. "Give them credit for that. We should learn from what we saw them do."

Wittman, who assisted on a goal by Mike Reynolds in the third quarter that got the Blast back in the game at 2-2, said he learned something about both Tacoma and the Blast.

"They could go a long way playing the way they play," saiWittman. "Some teams in this league will never win anything, because they're too individualistic. With Tacoma, you've got to ask, 'Who do you mark? What do you do now?' I admire that.

"At times, we play great together. At other times, we're a littlindividualistic. We've got to realize we have to play the same way Tacoma plays and a step above that."

Blast forward Domenic Mobilio got the Blast off on the right foot with a goal 8:16 into the game. But nine seconds later former Blast midfielder Freddie Thompson answered with a header.

"It was frustrating for our offense," Stankovic said. "We couldn't create chances with them packing everyone back. And then we seemed to be working so hard to get nothing and at the other end they'd score an easy goal. We weren't working very well as a team, the way they were."

The Blast, as coach Kenny Cooper said, had its chances.

Vacarro stopped Mobilio one-on-one; a two-on-one breakaway went for nothing; crossbars and goalposts were hit.

All to no avail.

"Vacarro is having a dream season and they're playing hard defense," said Cooper. "They're tough to break down. They want to suck you in and then break on you. But our frustration is we can't seem to get healthy."

The fact Cooper mentions injuries is not a good sign for the Blast, which is so nicked up it will not practice until Wednesday morning.

Mark Mettrick (groin strain) and Dale Mitchell (ankle sprain) did not play last night. Then Bruce Savage went out with a sprained ankle in the first quarter last night.

But Tacoma also was playing with injuries. Kai, the Stars' leading scorer, is out as is midfielder Walter Schmetzer, while Steve Kinsey, who scored the winning goal, and Ralph Black were playing with a strained hamstring and a sprained ankle, respectively.

"Our roster is pretty deep," said Tacoma's Mark Karpun, who scored the Stars' third goal with 5:57 gone in the third quarter. "We don't lose anything when a couple of our guys go out. Injuries are no excuse."

For Tacoma, who won just six of 26 games on the road last season, their current 4-2 performance is one to be savored. If anyone thought it escaped their notice, they weren't standing outside the Stars' locker room when a new rendition of "Jingle Bells" filled the air.

"Jingle Bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way," the Stars sang. "Oh how nice it is to see Tacoma win a-way. Hey!"

"This is an enjoyable season for a lot of their guys," said Stankovic. "First place. It's a great feeling and I'm happy for them. I think they feel they have a lot to prove."

Right now, the Blast does, too.

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