A third of the way into this Major Soccer League season, forward Dale Mitchell has a more familiar feel for the Blast.
But every day, Mitchell gets another lesson on intensity.
Yesterday, the day after the team returned from a two-game road trip that wound up in Tacoma Saturday, the Blast was on the practice field. For most teams, it would have been a day off. But for the Blast it was a work day.
"When I saw him, I told him to pretend he was home in Vancouver," said Blast coach Kenny Cooper. "I know he expected to be off today, but he is learning every day that nothing but winning is good enough."
Mitchell, who was traded to the Blast last summer after five years in Kansas City, admits there are vast differences between the here and now and the past.
"I'd say the biggest difference between Kansas and here is that the expectations are a lot higher here," Mitchell said after practice. "Our 9-8 record isn't good enough. That's fair enough. I understand it. In Kansas, we took it one game at a time. Here, you are constantly looking ahead, planning where you want to be. And right now neither the team nor myself are satisfied with where we are."
The Blast, which plays in Dallas Thursday before returning for Saturday's 7:35 p.m. encounter with San Diego at the Arena, is in second place in the Eastern Division, one game behind 10-7 Kansas City.
As for Mitchell, he is third on the team with 14 goals, nine assists, which makes him the 15th leading scorer in the league. A year ago, the All-Star was consistently among the MSL's leading scorers, finishing third with 47 goals, and fifth in overall points with 70.
"I'm not satisfied," Mitchell said. "But it is just 17 games. I want to be judged over 52 games and the playoffs. I had good year after good year in Kansas and got no place. Maybe this is the year I don't do as well, but the team wins it all."
Currently, Mitchell plays on a line with midfielder Billy Ronson, the Blast's leading scorer with 13 goals and 19 assists. From Ronson's perspective, it is not a bad match at all.
"Dale does things people don't see," said Ronson, who has had different players around him each of his last three Blast seasons. "People look at who scores and who doesn't. Dale is doing a lot of things for us. He draws two defenders and that opens space and time for the rest of us. Just having him here has been a bonus.
"Anyway, it doesn't matter who scores as long as we win. In K.C. Dale never won anything. I think he came here wanting to win. In the end, you just do what you have to do to make the team prosper."
Still, as one of the top paid players in the league, there is undeniable pressure for Mitchell to do more.
Sunday, Cooper said, "I still feel we've not totally found the right person to link up with Dale," to get the most out of him.
Yesterday, defender Mike Reynolds played a little at midfield, on a line with Mitchell. And defender Mark Mettrick will get practice time there as well, as Cooper searches for the perfect match.
The idea is with a more defensive-minded midfielder, Mitchell might get the ball back a little more after his initial pass from the middle than he does from Ronson, one of the Blast's leading scorers the last three years.
"Mike has a yearning to be in midfield," said Cooper. "I think, eventually, you'll see him playing there. I think the key to success in this league is to not be predictable.
"As for Dale, he has been patient and he's settling down. He wants to play here and at times he looks brilliant. At other times, he looks a little lost, because he is still learning where everyone likes to get the ball, and we're still learning where he likes to get the ball."
In Kansas City, every play went through Mitchell. That is not the way it goes here. There are too many scorers on this team to constantly set up just one. On the other hand, Mitchell is too valuable a scorer to waste as a decoy.
"What more do I want from Dale?" Cooper said. "I want the end result and we're still putting that together. All he has to do is help us win . . . I think it is a challenge for Dale . . . He is still adjusting, but at the end of the day, he is one of the highest paid players and producing comes with the territory.
"I don't think that pressure has ever been put on him before. He has had to work harder here defensively, but to his credit he has fully applied himself."
Mitchell admits the atmosphere and the situation are entirely new. He also admits not being among the league's leading scorers is a change.
"But I wouldn't say I'm feeling frustrated," he said. "I don't make too much of it. Whoever I play with, I try to play well with them. Everything doesn't have to be me. It is part of a good player to be a team player."
NOTES: Blast defender Tim Wittman, who suffered a severe back bruise in the Tacoma game Saturday, is day-to-day, but is expected to miss at least a week . . . Midfielder Richard Chinapoo, who missed practice yesterday, was examined by team doctors after complaining of aches and pains, but no injury was found and Chinapoo is expected to play in Dallas Thursday.