There's an old expression in sports about a guy "taking one for the club." After last night, Cris Vaccaro could write a book on the subject.
If it wasn't for the fact the only goalkeeper on the Blast squad has a right hip pointer as ornery as an absessed tooth, Vaccaro might have been tending the fat lip he picked up as his team was squeezing by the Tacoma Stars, 4-3, at the Arena.
The keeper was required to make about a half-dozen acrobatic saves and, well, he didn't have time to be choosy about what part of his anatomy he put in harm's way. This was particularly so in the late going when, with the score tied at 3 and on a free kick situation, Tacoma ended up with a thunderfoot Mark Karpun about to unload from point-blank range with Cris still hugging his right post.
"On a play like that," he was saying, "the important thing is to keep your feet and be as 'big' [spread out] as you can. Guys sometimes panic and in the rush to get to the middle, they take a step and dive."
Vaccaro shifted to his left with a couple of quick side steps and arrived just in time to take the shot full in the chest/neck. He wasn't sure what kind of scoring effort to expect, but he had an idea.
"You know, I played with those guys [Stars] last year. I have a pretty good idea what their tendencies are. And, all during the game, you're noticing what kind of shots guys favor in certain situations," he said.
Baltimore never trailed, but when Gary Heale tied it for the visitors at 3 in the fourth quarter, it appeared as if Tacoma might keep the Blast winless through three games as it kept the pressure on for a full five minutes. Vaccaro handled it, however, giving his offense a chance to win it in the stretch.
Waad Hirmez got the winning goal with 2:34 remaining just before 8 p.m., but this one could probably be credited to a session the team had on the Arena carpet several hours before. In basketball, it would be called going to a high-post offense and assigned the roll was either Domenic Mobilio or Rusty Troy.
"They know they're going to take a lot of kicks and other abuse in there," explained coach Ken Cooper, "but at the same time they know it's going to open things up."
Besides the "give and go," players on the outside pass the ball in and X-cut off the post, the pivotman can wheel other way looking for a quick shot or, if the defense plays too soft, he can push it back out for a possible perimeter shot.
Mobilio, besides scoring his fifth goal on the season, created some nice opportunities, including one that saw David Eise convert a clear shot from 35 feet as a cutter just so happened to be moving through the box to screen Tacoma goalie Mike Dowler.
"There are a hundred plays and options with this system," said Cooper, "but the important thing is it gets Mobilio and Troy out in the middle where they've got some operating room, and they'll pick up a lot of fouls because they'll always have a guy hanging all over them."
Already, it's apparent the Blast won't be wracking up the goals it did last year. But while Cooper recalls "it was not unusual for us to score seven goals last year," more often than not the other team was getting eight or nine."
Cris Vaccaro is fully willing to "take one for the club," but he'd just as soon not have the opposition raining a dozen or so meteorites at his head every game.
* Now that it's all over, let's go back a bit to the days when hope was springing eternal (April) and everyone was doping out the pennant races. Best of the baseball annuals, it says here, is Bill Mazeroski's Baseball '91 and here's what its detailed study offered.
The Twins were picked to repeat as American League West cellar-dwellers and they were assigned a talent quotient rating equal to that of the Cleveland Indians. Meanwhile, the Braves, after years in last place in the National League West, were expected to do better -- yes, pushing all the way up to fifth past the team adjudged to be the most feeble in the game, Houston.
The Blue Jays and A's were the calls in the AL, the Cubs and Reds in the NL. One out of four ain't bad. The Orioles were seen as a very solid third in the AL East, their TQ rating of 33.5 putting them in the "generally solid but still some questions" category.
* They've finally come up with an opponent for Andrew Maynard on the big baxing show at the Washington Convention Center tomorrow night. Maynard takes on Mathew Saad Muhammad, former light-heavyweight champ and one of the most pleasing TV scrappers ever.
The headliner is Riddick Bowe, taking on Elijah Tillery as he waits patiently for the heavyweight division to shake down and provide him with a big-bucks brawl against Evander Holyfield, Mike Tyson or George Foreman.