By RODNEY PAGE
© St. Petersburg Times, published August 26, 2000
TAMPA -- The Mutiny, with its league-high 15 wins and Central Division-leading 47 points, should be feeling good with only four games remaining in the regular season. The playoffs are a near certainty, and home-field advantage also is likely.
So why does it seem like the team has something to prove?
Because to compete for its first MLS Cup, the Mutiny likely will have to go through Chicago.
The Fire has been a major stumbling block for the Mutiny since it joined the league in 1998. Tampa Bay is 1-5-1 all-time against Chicago and has lost two and tied one game against the Fire this season. The Mutiny is three points ahead of the Fire in thedivision.
Today's game against Chicago may be for the division lead,but more important for Tampa Bay, a win would prove it can beat one of the league's best teams.
"We didn't really have that sense that we could go out there and win games (last season)," Mutiny defender Steve Trittschuh said. "It was like we were psychologically not there. Now it's the total opposite. We know we can beat these teams."
It hasn't beaten Chicago since May 8, 1999, and that was a 2-1 shootout win. In three games this year, the Mutiny offense,second in scoring behind Chicago, has been outscored by the Fire 6-1.
But Chicago looks vulnerable today.
The Fire played 112 minutes in Los Angeles before defeating the Galaxy 2-1 in a physical U.S. Open Cup semifinal match Wednesday night. The team boarded a plane and made a cross-country journey to Tampa.
Key players Chris Armas, Lubos Kubik and Mike Sorber are out with injury. Factor in the afternoon heat and no mid-week game for the Mutiny, and things seem to favor Tampa Bay.
"We're not preaching to our guys about the circumstances," Mutiny coach Tim Hankinson said. "We're not talking about Wednesday night, or fatigue or any of that. Just look at that (U.S. Open Cup) game: 45 fouls, 15 cautions. These guys are coming out fighting."
While Mutiny forward Mamadou Diallo will get most of the attention today, it's goalkeeper Scott Garlick who may be the key to the game. After a 5-1 loss to Chicago on April 28, the Mutiny went 167 minutes in the next two games against Chicago before allowing a goal, and that was a controversial penalty kick.
Of course, Tampa Bay hasn't scored against Chicago in 265 minutes, which makes Garlick that much more important.
Chicago averages 1.93 goals, and forward Ante Razov has 15, second in MLS behind Diallo's 22. Forwards Dema Kovalenko, Hristo Stoitchkov and Josh Wolff also are dangerous players.
"The thing that I want to do more than anything is be consistent," Garlick said. "You never want to be too high or too low. If you can run a steady ship for 32 games, then you can look back and say it's been a good season."
Garlick joined the Mutiny before the 1999 season from D.C. United. Despite constant changes to the defense, Garlick had a team-record 1.31 goals-against average in 1999.
This season, with the defense firmly in place, Garlick has a team-record six shutouts and a 1.44 GAA in 28 games. He was named a reserve on the East All-Star team and recorded a shutout in the second half.
His start today will mark the most games he's played in a regular season.
"(Having a consistent defense) is massive," Garlick said. "You look at the great teams in the world today and you'll see the goalkeeper and the defenders have been together for a while. After you have that you can go forward with confidence."
WHEN/WHERE: 4:30; Raymond James Stadium, Tampa.
TV/RADIO: Telemundo; WWBA-AM 1040, WAMA-AM 1550 (Spanish).
RECORDS: Fire 13-9-5, Mutiny 15-11-2.
COACHES: Fire -- Bob Bradley. Mutiny -- Tim Hankinson.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Fire -- G Zach Thornton, D Carlos Bocanegra, F Ante Razov, M Peter Nowak, F Hristo Stoitchkov. Mutiny -- M Carlos Valderrama, F Mamadou Diallo, M Steve Ralston, G Scott Garlick, D Steve Trittschuh.
NOTES: The Mutiny clinches a playoff spot with a win and a New England or Miami loss. ... Chicago is missing M Chris Armas (left knee strain), D Lubos Kubik (left knee strain) and M Mike Sorber (right hamstring strain). D Andrew Lewis is doubtful with a bruised left ankle. Nowak is questionable after a cut around the eye and a concussion after a run in with L.A.'s Luis Hernandez. ... Mutiny D Chad McCarty is questionable with right ankle tendinitis. He practiced sparingly this week. ... Several Mutiny players are close to one-game yellow-card suspensions. Diallo has gotten yellow cards in consecutive games and will have to sit out the next game if he gets another today. M Josh Keller and D Joe Addo have 20 penalty points, one short of the maximum, so their next yellow will mean a one-game suspension. Midfielder Dominic Kinnear has 19. ... Ralston needs 67 minutes in today's match to become the first MLS player to surpass 13,000 career minutes. ... Christian rock group Avalon will perform after the game.