Against ropes, Blast fails to make it a fight


These are different times.

Once, last night's Blast game would have been a perfect setting: on a two-game losing streak, 2 1/2 games out of first place, in danger of falling below .500 and the Major Soccer League's Eastern Division leader in town.

Perfect. Once, the Blast would have looked its enemy in the eye, proclaimed itself better than the rest, proclaimed that it played its best ball when its back was against the wall: and then proved it.

Once, the game at the Arena before 7,039 would have been a perfect setting for victory. No more.

"You can only go to the well so often," Kansas City midfielder Carl Valentine said last evening after the Comets defeated his former team, 7-6. "They've still got good personnel, but maybe they've lost a little confidence. They've lost five of six games; they can't have a lot. They came in with all the pressure on them, on their home court and it showed.

"They've lost some critical games and bounced back. But in this one, they came up short."

Once, Blast coach Kenny Cooper could go crazy at the opposing team over a knock-down of goalkeeper Scott Manning and know his team would be uplifted.

But this night, instead of firing up his own squad, Cooper's orchestrated outburst at Jan Goossens worked in reverse.

"Kenny tried to do something for his team," said Goossens, who brushed Manning as the keeper was falling and irritating his wounded knee. "But what Kenny did was get the best out of me."

Goossens, who has scored 10 goals in his last three games, beat Blast defender Joe Barger for a 7-5 Kansas City lead with 8:46 to play. The Blast scored a sixth-attacker goal by Tim Wittman, with 2:39 to go, but a block by K.C.'s Kevin Hundelt on a last-second try by Richard Chinapoo made Goossens' goal the game-winner.

It was a goal that gave Goossens his 600th career point, to put him in the select company of Steve Zungul (1,123), Branko Segota (741) and Kai Haaskivi (659).

It was a goal good enough to push the Blast below .500, at 17-18, for the first time since Nov. 17. It also drops it 3 1/2 games back of Kansas City (20-14) with 17 to play.

"I think it is more that we are a good team this year," said Goossens, who had his career-high fifth hat trick of the season yesterday. "We are the sound, aggressive team now. We don't get blown out anymore. I think we force Baltimore to make mistakes and we finish them off."

A year ago, the Comets chased the Blast across the MSL galaxy, only to lose sight of it when K.C. burned out in the Eastern Division finals.

But these are different times. Now the Blast is counting itself lucky that the All-Star break is here.

"It couldn't come at a more perfect time for us," said Cooper, adding it is probably a bad time for Kansas City, which is playing extremely well.

"I think this is very different," said Wittman, who scored his fourth hat trick of the year. "What can you say? We're not used to this. It's definitely different. We're below .500. It's . . . I can't describe the feeling. It's like, what are we getting paid for? To lose? That's ridiculous. But we're not doing the things we need to do to win."

Manning, who is getting beaten up this season, said simply: "We're not controlling like we used to in the important parts of the game. We're not taking our opportunities and punishing the other team and forcing our will on them. It seems like we're always counter-punching."

The question is why? And the answer may not be pleasant.

"We've got a lot of problems," said Wittman. "When you're losing like we are, Kansas City is right, there is no confidence."

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