On the day after the Blast's home loss to Cleveland, coach Kevin Healey pointed to Crunch forward Hector Marinaro as a prime example of how he wants his team to play today.
Marinaro, who admits to not showing up in the Crunch's first-round series against Montreal, netted six goals in Friday's 28-18 win over the Blast, scoring some of the most impressive goals seen at Baltimore Arena this season.
Much in the same way Marinaro stepped up his level of play after a disappointing effort, Healey urged his team yesterday to copy the league's leading point-scorer in Game 2 of the best-of-three American Conference finals in Cleveland at 6: 35 p.m. today.
"We know we have to play better," Healey said. "We set a goal all year to win a championship, and we need to refocus at this point in time to get a better individual and team effort. Hector didn't have the greatest series against Montreal, but he obviously improved his performance. We need to do the same as a team."
The first and most glaring area in which the Blast needs improvement is to make life tougher for Marinaro and his fellow star, Zoran Karic. Both took advantage of numerous Blast turnovers and converted almost every opportunity.
The Blast's defense, which has played well through most of the season, gave up its biggest point total of the season Friday. The 28 points were five more than the combined total it gave up in its two-game victory over Philadelphia in the first round.
"A lot of things that we did, particularly in the first half, can be corrected," Healey said. "In the second half, Hector had some tremendous finishes. In the first half, we gave up way too many soft goals. We know we can play better than that, and that's what we have to do."
Said defender Doug Neely: "We didn't shut them down anywhere. Hector had open shots. He did finish them, but we didn't put pressure on him. We just allowed him to stroll through the midfield, through the final third, and he was just loving life."
Neely said the Blast will now try and have someone other than Marinaro or Karic beat it. There is a good chance of that happening since Cleveland has lost only twice at the Cleveland State University Convocation Center this season and is the defending National Professional Soccer League champion.
The Crunch has been in the league finals three of the past four years, played in a host of big games and has had success in most.
And the Blast, which is 1-5 this season against the Crunch, has not won in Cleveland in years.
"We know that this battle is not over," said Cleveland coach Bruce Miller. "It was huge to go into their building and win. But we expect another battle."
If nothing else, the Crunch will probably get that. The Blast has not lost back-to-back games since mid-December. In fact, in most of its games, the Blast has dominated its opponent coming off a loss. Fives times this season the Blast has gone on the road after losing and come out victorious.
"One thing the Baltimore fans can be assured is that we're not going to give up," Healey said. "We're not going to lay down for anybody. There's a lot of determination in their eyes. Everybody is together on this team."
NOTES: Blast midfielder Shane Dougherty will not play today due to a concussion suffered in Friday night's game. J. J. Kremer will replace Dougherty in the lineup. Defender Derrick Marcano is also out after hurting his foot Friday and will be replaced by Todd Hicks. Forward Erik Rasmussen had to make an emergency trip back home to Denmark because of complications with his wife's pregnancy and will miss today's game.