The veterans in the Major Soccer League look at Joe Barger's handsome baby face and mistake him for a soft touch who can be pushed all over the field.
"They say things about my face and looks," said the second-year midfielder, who joins Tim Wittman as the two area players on the Baltimore Blast this season. "But once I dump them on their back, they know I'm not going to be pushed around."
Blast coach Kenny Cooper says of Barger: "Behind those Robert Redford looks is a man that is great in a street fight. He's not afraid of anybody. Looks are deceiving."
When the Blast defeated the Wichita Wings, 7-4, Nov. 11 at the Baltimore Arena, Wings midfielder Chico Borja discovered that Barger couldn't be intimidated.
Borja, one of the more physical players in the league, gave Barger a chop across the face as the two players were going after the ball.
But the blow didn't seem to faze Barger. He never broke stride and stayed with Borja step for step.
Barger, 23, didn't retaliate with a punch but made a mental note for future reference when he gets in a tight spot with Borja.
"I'll remember it," said Barger quietly. "What goes 'round comes 'round."
Tonight, when the Blast meets the St. Louis Storm at 8:35 at St. Louis Arena, Barger will be part of a youthful third line that also includes rookie forward Chris Haywood and second-year midfielder David Vaudreuil.
Barger is coming off an outstanding performance in Wednesday night's 9-7 victory over the Dallas Sidekicks at the Baltimore Arena.
"Joey forced a lot of turnovers against Dallas with his usual hustle," said Cooper.
Cooper put the Barger line together at halftime of the 7-4 win over Wichita, and it took only 27 seconds into the third quarter for Barger to score his first goal of the season, off a pass from Haywood.
Cooper said: "Jim Pollihan [assistant coach] and I sat down before the season and decided that Joey has to play this season. He's ready and raring to go, like a stallion which sometimes needs to be held back." Cooper and the Blast doctors could hold Barger back only one week when he had a stress fracture of the right leg earlier this month. Barger was supposed to be out two to three weeks.
"I talked to the doctors and coach Cooper and convinced them to let me play," said Barger, who played high school soccer and lacrosse at Fallston High before going to Loyola College and playing the same two sports. "They told me I would have some pain, but I said it wouldn't bother me as long as I couldn't do any further damage to the leg."
That kind of attitude did wonders for Barger's standing with Cooper.
"Joey Barger has great intensity, desire and a willingness to learn. I never have to worry about him. I know he's going to take some flak for me saying this, but he's a coach's dream," said Cooper.
Barger said he knows his role with the Blast and seldom tries to overstep his bounds.
His shot is one of the five hardest on the team (with Rusty Troy, Richard Chinapoo, Mike Stankovic and Mark Mettrick), and he has a rugged defensive style that fits in with the Blast.
"I know my limitations," said Barger. "I don't have great dribbling ability or great skills. My job is to get in the game, take shots and work hard all over the field. I'm a physical player, which helps me because that seems to be the style of play that's in now."
$Opponent: St. Louis Storm
Site: St. Louis Arena, 8:35 p.m.
Radio: WCAO (AM 600)
Outlook: This is the second meeting between the two teams. Baltimore won the first game, 13-9, behind Domenic Mobilio's four goals. The Blast is 8-0 lifetime against the Storm. Baltimore (5-5) is coming off a 9-7 victory over the Dallas Sidekicks, and St. Louis (4-6) is coming off a 6-5 win over the Wichita Wings. MF Preki (16 goals, 12 assists) leads St. Louis. MF Billy Ronson (6 goals, 16 assists) tops the Blast scoring. MF Mark Mettrick (strained groin) is questionable for the Blast. G Zoltan Toth (right knee surgery) is questionable for St. Louis.