Blast coach Kenny Cooper knew he would be without several of his veterans at the start of training camp, but he didn't expect forward/defender Tim Wittman to be one of them.
Yesterday, Wittman spent the afternoon at St. Agnes Hospital getting a bone scan of his lower back, while 24 veterans, rookies and free agents took part in an all-out scrimmage.
"It's very disappointing," said Cooper, who is missing team members Dale Mitchell, Joe Barger and Domenic Mobilio and prospective candidates Phillip Gyau and Jean Harbor to tonight's North American outdoor championship game between the Maryland Bays and the Vancouver 86ers. "We had physicals today and Timmy came in and apparently had hurt himself lifting some dumbbells. We're concerned: No. 1, he's injured and No. 2, it's the first day of training camp. It really doesn't look good having an unrelated soccer injury.
"He knows we're disappointed and he is disappointed. But he's had a lot of injuries over the last 12 months. It's a concern and I've talked to the doctors. They're concerned. But, hopefully, it's nothing serious."
Wittman was about to do calisthenics in his home Monday. He realized he needed a little more space and went to move a weight out of the way. That's when he felt his back go.
"I wasn't even lifting it to be lifting weights," Wittman said. "It was just a freak thing, I picked it up to move it, that's all. I think it is just a strained muscle. I've done it before, in the same area, and it has gone away. But they're afraid it might be a bone fracture."
The X-rays are due back today.
"You know, it's hard, when you have people coming in to training camp to win jobs and Timmy, in the course of a season misses a lot of practice time," said Cooper, expressing a common coach's worry. "You have a hard time justifying that, no matter who the player is. You can't question his work rate in the games or his performance. But sooner or later, it [a player's absence from practice] starts to creep through the team a little bit. That's always a concern."
But if Cooper was concerned and displeased by Wittman's pre-preseason injury, it was nothing compared to Wittman's reaction to Cooper's voiced concerns.
"I always give training and the game everything I've got, and sometimes I pay for it," said Wittman. "Last year I was sick with influenza and I had a knee injury and I still wound up with 40 goals. I can't change. I got sick. I got hurt. Maybe I should have taken off a good damn month, but that's not me.
"It's not like I wanted to get injured the day before training camp . . . Cardiovascularly, I'm in great condition and until this freak thing happened Monday, I was in great shape for camp."
Wittman said the Blast had asked him not to lift weights in the offseason and though he doesn't agree with it, he has not lifted since early July.
But he is no less irritated about being told how to train a body he has been training all his life. He also voiced disbelief at the idea his absence from practice would have a negative effect on the team.
"Just ask the players," Wittman said. "Those guys talk to each other. Ask those players about my work habits. I'm not bragging, but I'd think when they look at me they see a 10-year veteran, an American, a Baltimorean, who has made it in soccer, who can run all day, gives 110 percent and trains hard."
Veterans Billy Ronson and Rusty Troy said they could see no negatives in Wittman's absence.
"Timmy misses practice with injuries during the season," said Troy. "It's almost the same time every year. But everyone knows he is a hard worker. No one gets mad. They just do their job until he can play again."
Ronson said he can see both sides.
"No coach likes to see players miss practice," he said. "They think players are trying to get away with something. But Timmy is another case. I don't think any of us players are bothered about the practices he misses. Everyone knows Timmy busts his chops and at the end of the day no one produces more than he does. And as far as players out here trying to earn positions on the roster, there isn't anyone out here who can do a better job than Timmy."