Blast ends long day with even longer face


TACOMA, Wash. -- Talk about your long, drawn out days.

The Blast players and coaches received a 5:30 wake-up call at their San Diego hotel yesterday, made an airplane flight up the Pacific Coast, got to Tacoma at 2:30 to find that their rooms were not ready -- then lost 6-5 in three overtimes to the Tacoma Stars.

After watching Stars forward Gary Heale score five goals, and after 90 minutes and 57 seconds of Major Soccer League action, the Blast left the West Coast with a seven-game losing streak on the road.

Blame this defeat on a game-ending, power-play goal by Tacoma's Bill Crook, with Blast defender Richard Chinapoo sitting in the penalty box.

Chinapoo's alleged sin? Tripping Tacoma midfielder Greg Ion with 33 seconds left in the second OT.

And no, that did not sit well with Blast coach Kenny Cooper.

"Usually in overtime in the National Hockey League the referees let the players play," Cooper said. "Come on; do me a favor. It's tough enough being on the road and everybody knows that.

"It's a tragedy to lose on a power play, particularly in overtime. I thought it was a harsh call."

It wasn't the only call by referee Herb Silva's crew that made life difficult for the Blast.

With 5:22 left in the first overtime, Mike Stankovic was ejected for taking a swing at Tacoma's Steve Kinsey.

"OK, Mike retaliated," Cooper said, "but Steve took a swing at him too. It takes two to tango and what happened is we got caught on the short end of the stick."

Kinsey didn't get called for punching, but he was given a two-minute penalty for pushing Stankovic. Still, that lighter judgment was not a just one, according to many in the Baltimore locker room.

"Kinsey threw the punch and Mike just returned it," said goalkeeper Hank Henry, who played his first game since an 8-5 loss to Cleveland on Feb. 6. "It's always the retaliation that's going to get caught. I thought they both should have been kicked out."

"I took the first two punches," Stankovic said. "I don't know how they made the decision to throw me out of the game. I thought it was a very curious decision. There was a lot of poor decisions made by the referees."

Perhaps, but that the Blast was even up to the task of pushing this game into three overtimes after losing in San Diego the night before was testimony of a gritty, pesky, never-say-die team.

And the Stars knew it.

"I thought when we scored first," Tacoma coach Keith Weller said of Heale's goal just 53 seconds into the game, "that they were really struggling, that they looked tired. But every time they went ahead, that seemed to give them some hope that they could win it.

"But it is hard when you travel like that and you play the night before. But by the same token you often play better the second game if you've had a poor game the first night."

"It was a great effort," said Crook, who put the nightcap on Baltimore's day with his 18th goal of the season. "They came in late as well. They're a good team. It was a game between the .500 teams. We match up well and every time we play them it's a battle."

Ah, yes: .500.

Tacoma rose to 20-19, while the Blast fell to 19-20, thanks in part to its 5-14 road mark.

With Cleveland defeating Kansas City 7-3 Sunday, the Blast wasted an opportunity to climb to within half a game of the first-place Crunch in the MSL Eastern Division.

"We have the team; we have the personnel," Henry said. "We're just making mistakes at crucial times. We need to cut that out and get a winning streak going."

NOTES -- At 90:57, the game was the eighth-longest in MSL history . . . Heale's five-goal performance gave him two hat tricks for the season. He scored five goals in his previous one, as well . . . The Blast's next game is at home Thursday against Dallas. After that, it's back on the road for games at St. Louis, San Diego and Tacoma . . . The Stars, who were shut out 6-0 by Baltimore last week, lead the season series between the teams, 4-2.

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