Two early goals each by Jason Dieter and Franklin McIntosh amid numerous scoring opportunities and a strong late defensive effort gave the Blast a hard-fought 12-11 victory over the Harrisburg Heat at the Baltimore Arena last night.
Clearly, the Blast appeared the better of the teams through much of the action, but it was a tribute to the plucky Heat that it would not go quietly.
The Blast (13-15) pulled clear of Harrisburg (12-16), and with the win, coupled with Philadelphia's victory over Florida, was left in sole position of second place in the highly competitive East Division.
The winning goal turned out to be a two-pointer by Shane Dougherty after about four minutes of the third period. It boosted the team's lead to 12-9, meaning the defense had to hold strong for the last 25 minutes of the game.
"I wasn't worried," said McIntosh. "Out team plays good defense, especially when we have to."
What the defense didn't do, rookie goalkeeper David Tenney did while registering his first victory in the NPSL after two losses.
"I wasn't sure I was going to play until after the warm-ups," said Tenney. "Khalil [Azmi] has been sick all week and, after working during the warm-up, he said he was too weak to go. The defense did a great job of blocking shots for me."
Dominant early and, after a lull, still in control at halftime, 10-6, the Blast saw it turn into a tight, tense game just moments into the second half when Gino DiFlorio scored a three-pointer to make it 10-9.
Dougherty's goal gave the home team some breathing room, but the Heat was right back in it when Harrisburg got a goal early in the concluding quarter. The Blast was equal to holding on and assuming a 3-2 lead over the Heat in the season series.
The Blast scored the first three goals in the first 18 minutes, and the way the home team was threatening nearly every time down the field, its advantage could have been twice as much.
Meanwhile, the defense was clicking, too, with Tenney having to make just one save during the first quarter.
Dieter scored after three minutes on a nice solo foray after stealing the ball in the Heat end. With just over two minutes remaining in the opening period, McIntosh had his first goal of the season.
Tarik Walker went nearly end-to-end with one of his broken-field charges for a score early in the second period before the Heat came alive. First Mike Williams, then Jim Hesch scored for the visitors before McIntosh and Dieter both scored again, giving the Blast a 10-4 lead with two minutes remaining before intermission.
Mark Pulisic tallied for Harrisburg on a restart just before the teams headed for the locker room with the Blast on top, 10-6.
NOTES: A moment of silence for longtime soccer official Francis Patrick Healey was observed before the game. Healey, father of Blast coach Kevin Healey, died of cancer yesterday at age 80.
The Blast is off until Thursday when it plays one of those popular midmorning "School Day" games in Philadelphia at 10: 30 a.m.
Pub Date: 2/21/99