If the Baltimore Blast beats Oldham Athletic tomorrow in Manchester, England, the victory won't just be filed away with the other exhibition wins in the franchise's history.
It will have a significant international impact on the game of indoor soccer, said Blast general manager John Borozzi yesterday before the team left Baltimore Washington International Airport for Manchester.
"If we win, the first thing that will happen is Oldham Athletic will come over here and play us, and I think there will be a long-term proposal for international indoor play," Borozzi said. "You have to remember, the English are the people who spread the game of outdoor soccer around the world."
Baltimore is the first Major Soccer League team to play an indoor game outside of North America. Oldham Athletic is the top English Second Division outdoor team and will move up to the First Division next season if it remains in first place in the Second Division.
The game, billed as the Leaf Transatlantic Challenge, will be played under MSL rules and regulations in Manchester's G-MEX Centre, which has indoor soccer carpet, --erboards and Plexiglas.
Borozzi said the English Football League wants to adopt the MSL style of indoor play because of the game's excitement.
"What they play now is outdoor soccer indoors," said Borozzi. "There are no boards, just lines to mark the out of bounds, and the ball bounces into the stands similar to basketball here. And it's not unusual to see guys play six to eight minutes at a time. Our players normally go for two to three minutes in one shift."
Borozzi said the English are able to play longer shifts because "you don't see guys running around as much as they do in the MSL. They move the ball with a lot of crisp passing. The skill level is great."
It's these skills that the English will be counting on tomorrow night to overcome a lack of familiarity with the MSL indoor game.
"There's a lot of feeling over there that they will win," said Borozzi. "Actually they believe they're going to kick our butts. Andy Williams [an English Football League official] told us, 'Tell your lads to be prepared.' "
Borozzi said the English find it hard to believe that a player like Billy Ronson is the Blast's leading scorer (10 goals, 17 assists in 13 games).
"Billy Ronson is not their typical profile of a big star," said Borozzi. "He'll soon be 34 [on Jan. 22]. They feel someone like that is beyond his prime."
Ronson and Mark Mettrick, both from England, have predicted Baltimore will beat Oldham Athletic. But neither player says it would be a blowout.
Borozzi was also cautious. "I think we'll win," he said.
When Mettrick was asked what would happen if Baltimore played Oldham Athletic in an outdoor game, he smiled and said, "They'd crush us."
Blast coach Kenny Cooper, whose Blackpool home is 52 miles from Manchester, erased any thoughts Saturday night his players may have had about treating the game lightly.
"We're going there to win," wrote Cooper on the blackboard in the locker room after the Blast had beaten the Cleveland Crunch, 7-3, before 7,325 at the Baltimore Arena.
Baltimore (7-6) held on to second place in the MSL Eastern Division by playing an intimidating defense and getting three goals from Ronson, two goals and two assists from Domenic Mobilio, two goals from Mike Reynolds.
NOTES: The Blast-Oldham Athletic game is being sponsored by candy manufacturer Leaf Inc., which became a major corporate sponsor for Baltimore this season and which also sponsors Major League Baseball.
Borozzi said he will attend the English Football League commercial directors meetings today and tomorrow in Manchester. "It will be like sitting in on the NFL meetings," Borozzi said. "I'll be seeing how they do things and learning about getting sponsorships. Of course, they're on a different level than we [MSL] are. They're the ultimate sport in England."