Joe Barger knows all about family and soccer. He grew up with both.
His father, George, helped start the youth soccer program in Fallston. George Barger's sons -- Joe, Greg, Tim and Michael -- have excelled in that program. Joe, Greg and Tim were standouts in high school, too, and each played collegiately -- Joe at Loyola, Greg at Connecticut and Tim at Towson State.
Michael appears to be on his way. He's a junior at Calvert Hall and helped lead his team to the Maryland Scholastic Association A Conference championship last Sunday.
They have achieved that success in the great outdoors, playing the sport soccer purists recognize. But Joe is better known these days for the soccer he plays indoors, with the Blast. He thinks the purists are missing a good thing.
"The Blast is tradition," said Barger, 23. "I grew up rooting for the Blast. They've been here 10, 11 years and it has grown with the city. And it's definitely like a little dream to be able to play for the team I looked up to when I was younger."
Barger will be playing on a line with rookie Chris Haywood and second-year man David Vaudreuil tonight at San Diego (10:35 p.m., WCAO-AM 600). It is the first of a two-game road trip, the second in Tacoma on Saturday.
Barger might consider the Blast traditional, but he knows his line is not.
Haywood is a 5-foot-3 rookie who can hide behind most players. Vaudreuil walked on as a free agent last year, tore up his knee, and has made a remarkable comeback. Barger is playing on only one good leg. Collectively they are an inspiration.
"And maybe a little intimidating to the veterans because they can see where their playing time could get cut," said coach Kenny Cooper. "These kids can play, and they've got such enthusiasm it's contagious. The other night, when they came into the game and produced that goal, it got everyone excited."
It was during the 7-4 victory over Wichita Sunday. Haywood stole the ball and charged down field, with Vaudreuil riding shotgun. Barger ran like a deer past Wichita's Danny Pena along the far boards. When the defense closed on Haywood, the rookie made perfect pass that Barger hit on the run into the net for a 3-2 Blast lead.
"Joey has two fractures in his right leg," said Cooper. "There are a lot of guys in this league who wouldn't play again until the playoffs with that injury. I can't think of anybody but Joey who would insist on playing while those bones are still cracked."
Barger has clearance from the team doctors to play, because he can do no more damage to the fractures.
"I sat around last year waiting for a chance to play, and I hated it," said Barger. "I don't expect anyone to play me because I'm a local player from Baltimore. I'd hate it if that's why I was allowed to play. I want to play because I've proved I deserve to play, and I think I've proved that in practice. But Sunday's game really helped my confidence."
Barger's confidence has been on a steady rise since last summer, when he earned a starting job with the Maryland Bays, who wound up champions of the National Professional Soccer League and runner-up to the Vancouver 86ers of the Canadian National Soccer League in the North American championship game.
Blast teammate Domenic Mobilio was a member of the 86ers. He says he still has scars on the back of his leg from where Barger kicked him. Barger says Mobilio is kidding. But Mobilio says he is not kidding when he talks about Barger's improvement.
"Last year, Joe didn't know if he'd play or not and then when he got in the game he tried to do too much," said Mobilio, who bought a house with Barger in Rodgers Forge this week. "Now he has a lot more confidence, and confidence is the key. Once you have it, you're able to relax and play better."
Barger's competitive drive extends beyond the field. When he finishes practice, he heads for Towson where he works as a financial planner for Morgan Financial Group.
"It's not like they [the Blast] are paying you nothing," said Barger, who has a business management degree. "But there are advantages to playing for the hometown team and knowing the business community."
After concentrating totally on the Blast during his first season, Barger's parents convinced him to do more.
"I got on him and so did his mother," said George Barger. "I know he has a good education and it will always be there for him, but at the same time, we didn't want him to wait too long.
"Last year, playing for the Blast and then the Bays and putting on a few camps, he did almost as well as anyone coming out of college and using his business degree. But we kept telling him he can't just rely on soccer."
So Barger went to work.
"I'm working toward my future," he said. "But I don't let it get in the way of soccer. The Blast is my main concern right now and Jim Morgan, who owns the company, has been very understanding about it."
VS. SAN DIEGO SOCKERS
* WHEN: Tonight, 10:35.
* WHERE: Sports Arena
* RADIO: WCAO-AM 600.
* OUTLOOK: This is the second meeting between these two old foes in less than a week. The Sockers (3-5) won the first meeting in Baltimore last Friday, 8-7, on a last-second goal by forward Wes Wade. Now, the Blast hopes to return the favor on San Diego's turf. The Blast (3-4) is coming off a physical 7-4 victory over the Wichita Wings. Coach Kenny Cooper said he is inspired by his team's strong defensive showing, which emerged after a team meeting. San Diego has won its last two games.
"We were involved in games in which we scored 13 and 10 goals and I think everyone just got caught up in the goal scoring and forgot about the defense," said Cooper. "But they showed character and ability Sunday. I think this road trip will be good for us."