Blast bands together, makes beautiful defensive music


Some nights, Blast goalkeeper Scott Manning has to work too hard for what he gets. Some nights, he makes marvelous, timely, acrobatic saves and still gives up six goals. Last night, he took it easy and his teammates presented him a 6-0 shutout of the Tacoma Stars at the Arena.

At least, that's the way Manning saw it, after recording only the second shutout since the Major Soccer League expanded the goals by 35 percent this season, to 14 1/2 by 7 1/2 feet. San Diego's Victor Nogueira had the first earlier this season against Dallas.

"This was given to me," said Manning. "This was an indication of how a team plays. This was a training film for how a team plays. It didn't matter who went forward or who got what. We helped each other.

"The credit has to go to the guys. I don't remember but one decent save I made and it was irrelevant. I hope it shows us, if we play this way, this is what we're capable of. We can win games if we play this way."

The victory gives the Blast a 19-18 record and a little breathing room in second place in the Eastern Division. It is now within 1 1/2 games of first-place Kansas City and again has a one-game lead over fast closing Cleveland.

It was Tacoma's misfortune to come into the Arena on a night when the Blast played its most complete game of the season, before a crowd of 9,279, the second largest gathering of the year.

On the offensive end, Billy Ronson scored his fifth hat trick of the year, Domenic Mobilio broke out of a five-game slump for two goals, defender Mike Reynolds scored his 17th point of the season -- a career best -- and Dale Mitchell, who has been playing with inspiration, provided two assists.

And on the defensive end, the forwards joined the defenders, showing they weren't afraid to play both ends. The Blast picked up Tacoma's attack near midfield and pressed.

"We wanted to stop the shutout," said Tacoma coach Keith Weller. "But I knew at the end of the first quarter, when we caught Scott with the ball at his feet and we couldn't get it in, that we were in trouble. When we had the power play in the fourth quarter and had the six-on-four advantage with the sixth attacker, and we still couldn't get it in -- well, it was just one of those nights.

"Scott made several real great saves at the end of the All-Star Game last week and I think he's just continued on from there."

Manning made 12 saves against 32 Tacoma shots, while his teammates blocked 20. Mike Stankovic and Mark Mettrick blocked four each, and Reynolds and Richard Chinapoo each blocked three.

"This was a great defensive effort by everyone," Chinapoo said. "I'm happy for Scott and it is something for all of us to enjoy. But we're just one game above .500."

"If we played like this every game, it would be a whole lot different season," said Mettrick. "Everyone did their part supporting each other."

As Blast coach Kenny Cooper said:

"Scott was the conductor of a symphony out there. On a scale of one to 10, he was an 11. He positioned players and showed great leadership. He simply made it look easy, like he was waving a wand."

It was Manning's fifth career shutout. The last one also came against Tacoma, last March.

"I think the older you get, and this sounds very corny, but the older you get, the more you have to learn to appreciate things," Manning said. "You never know when you'll be by that way again. This may be the last one I ever get. You never know. It may be the last year I ever play. That's a reasonable possibility.

"You just have to make sure you enjoy it . . . As you get older you have to cherish these things."

But lest the Blast become too euphoric, forward Tim Wittman provided the voice of caution.

"It was a team effort," Wittman said. "But we do quite well at home and struggle on the road. It's not that I don't believe we can continue to play this way. I know we can. It's just we don't always do it. We'll see."

The Blast leaves Thursday on a two-game road trip to San Diego and Tacoma.

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