Road trips in any sport can be exasperating. There are flights, adjusting to different beds, playing in unfamiliar buildings, putting up with hostile fans and overcoming the general feeling that road teams are at a disadvantage from the moment they arrive at the airport.
Blast forward Chris Handsor this week recalled a trip with his former team, the Philadelphia KiXX, last season during which the team's luggage was lost between home and Cleveland.
"We had to wear Cleveland's practice uniforms and other people's shorts," Handsor said. "I remember feeling very much like a misfit. We wore red jerseys with tape for numbers on our back and mostly blue shorts - though one guy had to wear purple shorts. We warmed up in the clothes we traveled in."
When the Kansas City Comets walk onto the carpet at 1st Mariner Arena tonight, they'll be the underdogs, not just because they're 8-13 overall and playing the Eastern Division-leading Blast, but because they're playing on the road, where they are 4-7 and where few teams in the Major Indoor Soccer League excel.
The Blast, however, has been an exception this season, and it is an exception the team will get to test over the next two months as eight of its next 11 games will be out of town.
"There's no such thing as jet lag in this league," said Blast forward David Bascome. "But it is still a test mentally to stay focused, and we have to make a point now. We have to let teams know we've come to their building to win.
"Once you install that in their minds, half the battle is done for you. Once the other team knows the game is going to be tough, you just have to make sure you show up and get your job done."
The Blast, 16-6 overall and 6-4 on the road, has managed to excel both home and away because of its mental approach.
"I often hear other teams say, 'Let's just keep it close and see what happens' when they're traveling," said Blast general manager Kevin Healey. "But that's not our approach."
The Blast's approach is: Let's go win. It becomes the aggressor, with the idea of pressuring the home team immediately and not letting up.
"But that doesn't mean we've changed our game plan," said Blast coach Tim Wittman. "We play the same way home and away. I don't want us thinking we have to get the lead at the start of the game to win. If we think like that, what happens if we don't get the lead?"
And, it seems, the Blast does believe. When it lost in overtime, 7-6, in Dallas on Sunday, ending its league-high seven-game winning streak, the players were clearly irked at themselves.
"We'd played four games in seven days - three of them on the road - and went 3-1," Bascome said. "But we were still disappointed."
The Blast scores home and away, as stats indicate: Tarik Walker has 11 away goals and six at home; Bascome 10 away, 14 home; Chili Farias 21 away, 19 home; Handsor six away, 11 home; David Kelly eight away, 11 home; Lee Tschantret nine away, 11 home, and P.J. Wakefield nine away, nine home.
Overall, the MISL's road winning percentage is up over the last five years and particularly over the past two. Healey attributes the rise to better officiating since Herb Silva, the respected director of officials from the original MISL, returned to that job in May 2002.
"The officials aren't as caught up in the games and atmosphere the way they used to be," Healey said. "And the road winning percentages have improved. Not dramatically, but they are going up a little bit. For the road teams, it's definitely better than it was."
The Blast's road record has rebounded after two seasons below the Major Indoor Soccer League average:
Year MISL Pct. Blast Pct.
'00-01 75-124 .377 *10-10 #.500
'01-02 47-85 .356 6-16 .273
'02-03 57-87 .396 7-11 .389
'03-04 39-54 .419 6-4 .600
#-Second time the Blast has had a .500 road record. The team has never finished with a winning road record.