The Baltimore Bays know what it's like to ride a winning streak into the playoffs.
In last year's inaugural indoor season, the Bays went 13-0 during the regular season, but were upset by Chattanooga, 8-6, in a first-round playoff game.
When Baltimore opens play in the U.S. Interregional Soccer League indoor playoffs at 6 o'clock tonight at Expo Square Pavilion in Tulsa, Okla., the Bays, who had lost three straight before winning last week's final regular-season game, won't be sporting the gaudy record or the haughty attitude.
Tonight's Bays game is part of the USISL's three-day, seven-game playoff weekend in Tulsa, which involves six teams. Those include division winners Baltimore, the Atlanta Magic and the Oklahoma City Slickers, in addition to the two teams -- the Chattanooga Express and the Knoxville Impact -- with the next-best records. The Tulsa Roughnecks get in automatically as the host team.
After two games today and four tomorrow, the two teams with the best records will meet in Sunday's championship game at 2 p.m.
"Last year, we really thought we were invincible, but this year we realize we can lose," said Joey Layfield, the Bays' fourth-leading scorer with 11 goals and nine assists. "Last year, everybody in the league was looking for an Atlanta-Baltimore showdown and we made the mistake of looking past Chattanooga. We won't let that happen again."
Bays coach Kevin Healey, whose team had won nine straight before its three-game skid, doesn't like to use injuries as an excuse for his team's late-season decline, but with Billy Ronson, Bill Harte and Rob Elliott hampered by pulled thigh muscles and Eric Riedlbauer nursing a bruised foot, he couldn't get around it.
"We played a tough schedule this year so that we wouldn't be playing our first close game in the playoffs, and we accomplished that, but on the negative side, we're banged up and that's because of the tougher, more demanding schedule," said Healey, who will have all of his players in uniform for tonight's tournament opener against the Impact.
The Bays have proved they can beat three of the other five playoff teams. Baltimore ended the defending champion Magic's winning streak at 39 games with an 8-6 victory on Nov. 19, defeated Oklahoma City twice (4-3 and 12-8) and slipped past the host Roughnecks (10-9 in overtime) during last month's trip to the Midwest.
"Every team down there [at the playoffs] knows that the Baltimore Bays come to play," said forward Eric Spalt. "They know they're in for a dogfight every time they play us."
Tonight: 6 -- Bays vs. Knoxville; 8 -- Tulsa vs. Chattanooga. Tomorrow: 11 a.m. -- Oklahoma City vs. Knoxville; 1 p.m. -- Atlanta vs. Chattanooga; 6 p.m. -- Bays vs. Oklahoma City; 8 p.m. -- Tulsa vs. Atlanta. Sunday: 2 p.m. -- championship.
Opponent: Knoxville Impact
Site: Expo Square Pavilion, Tulsa, Okla.
Outlook: The Bays (12-5), who ended their regular season last week by defeating Oklahoma City, 12-8, will meet a team that finished second behind them in the North-South Division in the opening round of the U.S. Interregional Soccer League playoffs. The Impact is led by USISL scoring leader Juha Miettinen and Ralph Garofano. For the second straight year, Bays midfielder Billy Ronson finished the regular season as the league's assist leader with 33. Ronson, Mark Mettrick and Eric Riedlbauer finished in the USISL's top 10 in scoring with 57, 63 and 51 points, respectively.