The way this season has gone, it would seem the Kixx have the Chicago Storm right where they want it for Game 1 of their two-game MISL playoff semifinal.

In Chicago, that is.

The Kixx won all three meetings this season in Chicago, where they play at 8:30 tonight.

Tomorrow's 7:05 p.m. game, though, is at the Wachovia Spectrum - where the Storm won all three games, as the teams split their season series. If the teams split the two playoff games, a "Golden Goal" sudden-death overtime will follow Game 2 to determine which team goes to the finals. Both games will be Webcast live at www.wmssfm.com.

"What I think is we get a little overanxious at home," said Don D'Ambra, the Kixx' coach and leading scorer. "We're so excited to play in front of our home crowd and in our own building, the guys just try a little bit too hard and force things a little bit too much; whereas on the road, you're just a little bit more laid-back."

The Storm and Kixx both finished the regular season 17-13. After losing their first two games, the Kixx won seven of eight and went on to finish the first half with a 10-5 record. But the Kixx won only seven of their last 15 games, and lost four of their last six.

"We've always bounced back," said D'Ambra, who was among four Kixx players to make the All-MISL team. "The games we did lose were close games. We're capable of beating anybody any given day. We just have to make sure we're prepared and focused."

The Kixx missed the playoffs last season for the first time since the inaugural season of 1996-97. One of the biggest reasons they are back in the playoff picture is Peter Pappas, the MISL Goalkeeper of the Year for the fourth time. But he doesn't want too much credit.

"I don't score any points, and I can't defend two-on-ones," Pappas said. "So it's definitely more than me just winning a game here and there for these guys. Goalkeepers in indoor soccer will steal games for their guys. That's just what we do. I have to make the saves I'm supposed to make, and hopefully [my teammates] do their job."

At least winning the award means he doesn't have to hear the talk he heard last year.

"It's nice to be recognized as one of the better goalkeepers in the league," he said. "The fact that I didn't win it last year . . . I know Brett Phillips had a great year, and he was well-deserving of the award.

"But then you hear that I had a bad year because I didn't win the award. I don't think that's the case. I thought I had a good year. We just didn't have a healthy team in front to get the victories we needed. So it's nice, but it's definitely a team award."

Not that Pappas wasn't there last year. In fact, he's been there every year. He and D'Ambra are the only players who have been with the Kixx since the team was formed.

So how are things different this year?

"We have more talent this year," D'Ambra said. "We're more possession oriented."

Where did this talent come from?

Well, the Kixx have two members of the MISL All-Rookie team: midfielder Tony Donatelli and goalkeeper Pat Hannigan.

And the biggest move from last year would have to be the dispersal-draft acquisition of Genoni Martinez, who won his fourth MISL Defender of the Year award.

"The team that plays good defense wins championships," he said, not surprisingly. *