Less than one hour yesterday after midfielder Tim Wittman passed his physical and was cleared to play again with the Major Soccer League's Baltimore Blast, goalkeeper Scott Manning went down in practice with a strained lateral ligament in his left ankle.
Manning, voted by the media last season as the league's top goalkeeper and the Blast's Most Valuable Player, most likely will be out two to three weeks.
Manning was in front of the goal late in practice when he blocked a shot by Mark Mettrick, then "rolled the ankle," said Blast coach Kenny Cooper.
Cooper said Manning was taken to Kernan's Hospital, where the ankle was X-rayed and placed in a hard cast. The nine-year Blast veteran was instructed to walk on crutches.
"The swelling was serious, and Scott has to stay off the ankle awhile," Cooper said. "Dr. [Joseph] Ciotola [Blast team physician] will re-evaluate him in 10 days, but he'll possibly be out two to three weeks."
According to Cooper, there is hope that Manning might return sooner than the early prognosis because "he's a real quick healer."
Manning, 33, is coming off his finest season in the MSL. He had a 22-12 record and a 3.50 goals-against average last season.
The injury to Manning puts a strain on the already-troubled Blast defense, which gave up eight goals in an 8-3, season-opening loss to the Wichita Wings on Saturday night.
Backup Scoop Stanisic will replace Manning on Friday night against the Kansas City Comets in Kansas City, Mo., and midfielder Billy Ronson and forward Rusty Troy will serve as backups for Stanisic in case he is injured.
"We're not going to run out right away and sign another goalkeeper," Cooper said. "Rusty and Billy are excellent goalkeepers, and they've volunteered to play in goal if we need them. We'll see how that works for at least one game before we do anything."
There is a possibility the Blast would sign a backup goalkeeper to a 20-day contract after Friday night, Cooper said.
"Scoop's ready to play, and this is a good opportunity for him," Cooper said. "That's why we have two quality goalkeepers. We lost the top goalkeeper in the league. But his attitude is good, and he'll be back."
Wittman, who had failed two physicals because of a degenerative disk and hasn't practiced yet this season, said last night: "I can't wait to get out on the field. This whole thing has been something of a nightmare. I felt all along last week I would pass the physical, because my back was feeling a lot better as I went through the therapy."
Wittman, 27, said he will practice today.
Cooper said of Wittman's return: "We're ecstatic. It's great news for Timmy and for the club, but we're going to be real cautious with Timmy in practice. We don't want any more setbacks."
Then Cooper added, "When I find Timmy's dumbbells, I'm going to throw them in the Chesapeake Bay."
Wittman first injured his lower back two days before training camp when he was moving a dumbbell during a weightlifting session.
NOTES: Before Wittman can play, he has to clear up a $750 fine that was imposed on him last January by MSL commissioner Earl Foreman after Wittman was tossed out of a game (red-card ejection) against the Wichita Wings by referee Herb Silva. Wittman has appealed the fine and will have a hearing before Foreman in an attempt to get it reduced. Wittman said he has agreed to pay the normal fine of $100 for a red-card ejection "or even $200," but is balking at paying $750. Foreman said he imposed the heavy fine because Wittman abused Silva. . . . Blast director of public relations Drew Forrester was given the additional title of assistant general manager yesterday.