Trying to stay on a roll, Blast sets sights on Wave; Milwaukee goalie Nogueira is tough test for offense


Milwaukee's Victor Nogueira was last season's National Professional Soccer League's Goalkeeper of the Year and undoubtedly will provide one of the toughest tests for the Blast's offense this time around.

Nogueira and the Wave will take on the Blast at 7: 30 tonight at Baltimore Arena.

The Blast is not hurting for good goalkeeping, either, with Scott Hileman coming off a Defensive Player of the Week award for his play in the team's two wins over the Philadelphia KiXX -- a Nogueira-like performance.

"Victor doesn't seem to give up the easy goals," Blast forward Mark Thomas said. "So when you are shooting, a lot of times you are aware of it, and you try and shoot far post more. The goals you get are back post, the ones he can't get to.

"You want to not think about the keeper that is in there. He's definitely a guy who can outright win games, similar to what Scott did against Philadelphia for us."

Nogueira made his fifth consecutive all-star appearance last season, leading the league in points-against average (9.14).

This is his eighth season with the Wave, which is picked by the league coaches to win this season's NPSL title. Milwaukee opened its season last night with a 19-5 rout of Montreal.

Blast coach Kevin Healey welcomes such an early-season challenge at home because it will keep the team focused.

"They had a good week of practice," Healey said.

"I just want to make sure that their focus is still there. We've got 42 more games. Milwaukee is a great team, well-coached. It is going to be quite a challenge for us to win that game. We have the ability to do that.

"We had a good weekend last weekend. But that is all it was. In order to have a good season, we have to keep driving the players."

The Wave won the NPSL title two seasons ago and finished second in the league during the last regular season with a 25-15 record.

Wave coach Keith Tozer returns for his eighth season, the longest tenure of any NPSL coach, and brings back last year's team leading point-scorer, Michael King (108 points).

"They are strong at every position," said Blast midfielder Danny Kelly. "We have to play good, solid soccer to win. Every game is like starting over. You can't make many mistakes, or they are going to beat you."

The Blast will need offensive production similar to the 17 and 16 points it scored in last weekend's home-and-home games with Philly. Midfielder Denison Cabral, who scored five goals in the two games, came up big on a roster loadedwith scoring threats.

Forwards Tarik Walker and Erik Rasmussen, along with defender Doug Neely, also had solid matches.

"Denison doesn't need much space," Thomas said. "Just a foot or so away from the defender, and he can finish. That is what he is known for. Give him half a chance, and he'll finish. He came up big last week, but it could be anybody."

It may take a committee of scorers to beat Nogueira. The same could be said for Hileman after his dominating performance at times last weekend.

"Obviously, we are going to score a ton of goals this year," Hileman said. "We just want to keep the team concept [on] defense. Coach Healey has been trying to stress that since the beginning of the year. Individual awards come from guys getting blocks and doing their job, which makes it a lot easier for me."

NOTES: Captain Lance Johnson and defender Ronnie Simmons missed practice this week but should be fine for tonight's game. The first 3,000 kids 13 and under get free replica jerseys.

Blast tonight

Opponent: Milwaukee Wave

Site: Baltimore Arena

Time: 7: 30

Radio: WCBM (680 AM)

Outlook: Milwaukee comes in with the NPSL's best goalkeeper, Victor Nogueira (9.14 points-against average), and with last season's team-scoring leader, Michael King, who had 108 points. Wave coach Keith Tozer will get his 350th win this season. Any questions on how good the Blast is could be answered with a win tonight over one of the NPSL's best teams.

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