Blast aims to avoid another collapse

The Baltimore Sun

About this time last season, the Blast was 14-9, had seven games remaining and probably was two wins away from clinching a position in the Major Indoor Soccer League playoffs.

The team won its next game, but a nose-dive soon followed. Six consecutive defeats, including a morale-crushing one at home to the Philadelphia KiXX in the penultimate match, left the Blast out of the playoffs by one game.

This season, the Blast is 14-9 with seven games remaining and perhaps only one win from the playoffs, which will include six teams this season because of the addition of three expansion teams.

Despite the nearly identical situation, however, the outlook seems totally different.

"One of the biggest reasons is we still have that really bad taste from last season," forward Denison Cabral said. "We want to make up for it."

Player-coach David Bascome said: "Last year it was an uphill battle, mostly because of doubting ourselves. We were asking, 'Are we good enough?' Now, we know we have a team that can go a long way."

The 2006-07 Blast hobbled to the finish line, slowed by injuries. The day after losing to the KiXX because of a goal in the last minute, the Blast lost at Chicago and missed the playoffs.

A win tonight will virtually assure the Blast a playoff berth because it will hold the season-series tiebreaker against the KiXX, 3-1.

And, this time it will have forward Adauto Neto, a key player who missed most of last season and Bascome, who was playing with a bad knee later in the season.

"You can't say [injuries] led to our downfall altogether," captain P.J. Wakefield said. "... But it was a bit of a problem. We had young guys who hadn't played much who had to step up. This year, we have guys who are still trying to earn spots and have played more."

In other words, the Blast has greater depth.

But simply making the six-team field might not be good enough.

"That's the first step and then we want to go from there," Cabral said. "But we can't just say how good we can be. We have to perform."

The top two seeds will receive first-round byes. With a winning streak, the Blast could gain one of those seeds.

"The first through the sixth teams are all bunched up," Wakefield said. "If you play two games on a weekend and win them, you can go from sixth to first and if you lose you can go from first to sixth."

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