These are strange times, indeed.
Hank Henry, a 26-year-old goalkeeper who could not beat out a developmental keeper in San Diego last week, has been signed by the Blast and will start against those same Sockers tonight, 8:05, at the Arena.
"It is a great opportunity for me to show what I can do," said Henry, who replaces Scoop Stanisic, the Blast's backup since April 1989.
Henry signed a contract last evening for a salary in the $20,000 to $25,000 range. He has played in a total of four MSL games with the Dallas Sidekicks, but was signed as a developmental player. That means he is considered a first-year player here, so the Blast has 12 more games to determine his value before the contract becomes locked for the season.
Blast management said the goalkeeping change wasn't a cost-saving measure, since the team is comfortably under the MSL's salary cap. But the move does create room for future considerations at the position. Had Stanisic been kept today, as a veteran, his contract would have been guaranteed for the season.
"I'm a little rusty, but I felt comfortable in practice with these guys," said Henry, who spent the last half of last season with the Atlanta Attack of the National Professional Soccer League. "What I need is game time and to have someone to have confidence in me."
The Blast, until recently, seemed to have that kind of confidence in Stanisic, who was coming off a 10-8 season. Management raised his salary to almost $30,000 and made a point of the fact it was going to play Stanisic more this season, even before No. 1 keeper Scott Manning injured his ankle Oct. 22 and was sidelined indefinitely.
But in four games, Stanisic produced a 2-2 record with a 7.25 goals-against average, and the reviews were not good. Opposing teams have shot at will from long distance, and when the Blast held Kansas City to six goals, in a 6-5 loss last Saturday, it was the best defensive performance of the season in number of goals allowed.
After that game, in which the Blast fought from a 3-1 deficit to take a 4-3 lead, Stanisic was criticized for not coming through in the clutch and for a lack of communication with defenders.
Learning he was cut, Stanisic's reaction was cool and low-key.
"I'm alive and still healthy," he said. "I'm not dying, so it's not so bad. Management made a decision that I could do nothing about."
Stanisic, 27, had little else to say.
"I try not to make any comment, lest I be misunderstood," he said. "I've never said anything bad about anybody and I'm not going to now. I came in peacefully and I'll leave peacefully. I'm a survivor. I've survived before and I'll survive now."
Stanisic said he would wait the 72 hours to clear waivers before making any plans. There is speculation the Sockers could be interested because they have only one keeper on the professional roster, Victor Nogueira. Or, Stanisic could be headed back to the Hershey Impact of the NPSL.
Henry was assertive in practice yesterday, moving the defenders in front of him so well that for nearly 15 minutes during an eight-on-eight scrimmage, he did not have to make a save.
"I think my greatest strengths are communication and distribution [of the ball on outlet passes]," Henry said. "I think communicating to the defenders in front of you is key. Because they usually have their eyes on the ball, they can't watch other players at the same time. It's good to let them know where the other players are, so they can position themselves correctly."
Several Blast players said they could not judge how Henry will play tonight. Nor would they second-guess management's decision to cut Stanisic. But veteran defender Bruce Savage said that although Stanisic did not play well, neither did the team.
"I'm sure, right now, most of us feel sorry for Scoop, because in a way, we all have to feel partly responsible for him being gone," said Savage. "We could have played better. Now all we can do is go on and do the best we can."
SAN DIEGO SOCKERS
* WHEN: Tonight, 8:05
* WHERE: Baltimore Arena
* RADIO: WCAO-AM 600
* OUTLOOK: San Diego (1-5) is struggling to get its defense set. Coach Ron Newman is scouring haystacks looking for experienced bodies. So far he's snatched Glenn Carbonara, recently released by the Blast, gotten three goals in four games out of him, plus a good defensive performance. Wednesday, Newman picked up another old Blaster, Michael Collins, who played here from 1984 to '86.
As for the 2-3 Blast, coach Kenny Cooper's team will have a new face on the floor tonight, too. Goalkeeper Hank Henry, wearing jersey No. 19, will be in the net. This is the first meeting between these teams since San Diego beat the Blast here for the MSL title last June.