Going into Saturday's Game 2 of the American Soccer League Championship series against Fort Lauderdale, the Maryland Bays are in full swagger.
But veteran midfielder Rob Ryerson, 26, said confidence alone isn't enough -- the Bays must adjust to a slower paced, ball control game to beat the Strikers. In their first playoffs in two seasons, the Bays can claim the league title if they win Saturday's game at the Royal Palm Polo Club in Boca Raton, Fla. The Strikers must win in order to force a 30-minute tiebreaker that would decide the championship.
The ASL winner advances to the American Professional Soccer League title game Sept. 22 at Boston University's Nickerson Field against the Western Soccer League champion. The defending ASL champion Strikers lost to the Bays, 3-2, in the opening game last Saturday at Cedar Lane Park in Columbia, Md.
The narrow home field at Cedar Lane Park promotes a fast-paced game according to Ryerson. But Fort Lauderdale's wider field lends itself to ball control, which is the Strikers' strength.
"It's going to be a bigger adjustment for us because we'll have to play a more controlled game," said Ryerson, who scored seven goals and had four assists this season. "The way for us to win is to play solid defense as a team."
The Bays have grown accustomed to playing a fast-paced, offense-oriented game and Coach Pete Caringi doesn't plan to change his tactics.
"Attacking the goal is what got us here and I don't see any reason why I should change that approach," he said. "We're not going to be conservative because that's not the way we play. I think too much is made about their field. I want to keep the same pace because they controlled the ball more than we did last Saturday and we still won."
Caringi's aggressive philosophy turned the Bays around from a 9-11 season in 1989. Four recruits from the Washington Diplomats helped the cause: Jean Harbor, Omid Namazi, Daryl Gee and Charlie Ardt. Harbor is part of the Bays' forward attack. Phillip Gyau, the other speedster, and Harbor have scored a combined 24 goals this season.
Ryerson said the veterans and rookies work well with each other because each player knows his role. That combined with Caringi's confidence in his players has been the winning formula.
"It doesn't matter if you're one of the 11 starters or one of the seven sitting on the bench if the coach believes in you," Ryerson said.
Both Ryerson and Caringi agree that the Bays can't afford to let the Strikers get an early lead. Caringi stressed that his team has the mental edge.
"They've got all the pressure on them being a game behind and the defending champs," he said.