Blast shows third-period mean streak; Team's margin of 31-16 has been turnaround key; NPSL notebook; Soccer


Four matches into the season, two important areas have flip-flopped for the Blast compared with last year.

The first is the team's record -- a 4-0 start compared with 0-4 last season. The second is in third-period effectiveness.

The third period was arguably the team's worst last season. This year, the Blast leads the league in third-period points with 31, nine more than Harrisburg and Wichita, who are tied for second.

It has been the period in which the Blast has taken control of each match, especially in Saturday's 20-12 victory over Philadelphia.

The Blast trailed the KiXX 9-5 early in the third before running off four straight goals in a four-minute span. Midfielder Denison Cabral had three consecutive goals and finished with four in an 11-point period in which the Blast opened up a 16-11 lead.

The team has outscored its opponents, 31-16, in the third period this season.

Outside of the first match, in which Blast coach Kevin Healey said he had a talk with the players about the importance of starting the second-half strong, Healey has not put any special emphasis on the third period.

"Last year, they said the third period was our worst period," Healey said. "It just happens to be where we bear down this season. Maybe the guys are concentrating harder. But it hasn't been something we've stressed since the first game. I think it has to do with us being much more confident as a team.

"At halftime, we know that the game is not over if we're winning and that we can still come back if we're losing. So we have a lot of confidence as a team."

The Blast has also outscored its opponents, 19-9, in the fourth period. Taken together, the team has a 50-23 advantage in the second half.

Going distance for three

Goalkeeper Scott Hileman achieved his second first of the season Saturday against the KiXX.

He won the year's first defensive Player of the Week award earlier this season, and Saturday he scored the first-three point goal by a goalkeeper.

In previous years, a goalkeeper's goal counted for only two points. With the rule change this season giving the keeper the extra point, Hileman said if he sees the opportunity, he will take it.

The goal came late in the fourth period with the KiXX playing with a sixth attacker, and it put the Blast up by the final score of 20-12.

"The ball came in my hands, and I was throwing it down, trying to clear," Hileman said. "I was aiming for the goal.

"Especially now that it's worth three points, if you can do something like that, you have to take the chance."

Hileman leads the league in wins (4), minutes (239), saves (84) and shootout saves (6).

Slow Crunch start

After what amounts to the first full month of NPSL play, the only real surprise is defending-champion Cleveland's losing record.

The Crunch is 1-2 after road losses to Philadelphia and Harrisburg. Edmonton (3-0) and the Blast are the only undefeated teams. Kansas City (0-3) and Buffalo (0-2) are the two teams without a win.

Healey said he does not expect the Crunch's losing record to last for long.

"You know that they're going to be there in the end," Healey said. "They just started out on the road, which is tough. Other than that, everything else is going about as expected."

Scoring is up slightly in the league, 28.68 points per game as opposed to last season's 25.44. The number of shots is also up -- by four.

Neely a busy man

Defender Doug Neely's play has drawn praise from Healey.

Neely is tied for first on the team in blocks (9) with Ronnie Simmons. Neely, who has played the last four years with the franchise, has been a major catalyst in the team's improved defense this season.

"Doug is such an intense competitor," Healey said. "He's solidified our defense and played well all season."

He also has two goals and an assist; all while taking classes at night Monday through Wednesday at Loyola for a master's degree in business.

"I like having to manage my time like this," Neely said. "When I have too much free time, that's when I get in trouble.

"The only problem comes in meeting with my study group. When they have free time on the weekend, that's usually when I have to go to work."

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