Baltimore Blast coach Kenny Cooper said yesterday that he has no plans to change the Major Soccer League team's physical style despite mounting ankle and foot injuries.
"We have to physically and mentally dominate teams to be successful," Cooper said. "We have a lot of foot and ankle injuries because we play physical soccer. But we'll continue to play our game and just hope that we're getting all these injuries early instead of late in the season like we have the past two years."
Cooper also said he would not curtail practice sessions in an attempt to alleviate the injuries.
Backup goalkeeper Hank Henry (sprained right ankle) is the latest player to be sidelined.
Cooper said Henry would be out for two games to rest the ankle he first sprained Dec. 8.
Henry continued to practice after suffering the injury and made the trip to Kansas City, Mo., and Tacoma, Wash., last weekend. He had hopes of starting tomorrow night against his old teammates, the Dallas Sidekicks, at Reunion Arena.
Those hopes were --ed yesterday when it was revealed that Henry had aggravated the ankle sprain Saturday night and Monday.
"I was warming up Scotty [Manning] in Tacoma, and it [the ankle] swelled up on me afterward," said Henry, who has a 3-2 record and 5.22 goals-against average. "Then on Monday, I was working in practice to get ready for Dallas and I rolled the ankle. Now, I need to rest it until I can get my lateral movement back."
Cooper has tried to not use the injuries as an excuse for the team's unusually slow start (9-8), but said yesterday the continuity of the team has been affected.
"At least now we're getting a player back [midfielder Mark Mettrick, who was out six games with a strained groin muscle] when we lose one [midfielder Tim Wittman was lost Saturday with a painful right hip pointer]," the coach said.
Yesterday, Wittman still had trouble walking, and team doctor Ken Spence indicated that he could be out 10 days to three weeks.
However, Wittman said he hopes to be back for the Dec. 26 game at Kansas City, after missing tomorrow night's Dallas game and Saturday night's San Diego contest at the Baltimore Arena.
"I understand I could wake up one morning and feel good enough to play," Wittman said, "but it's uncertain how long that will be. There's a pretty big muscle there to heal."
Wittman said his latest injury has nothing to do with the strained lower back that caused him to miss the preseason and season opener.
"When I first went down [Saturday night in Tacoma], Kenny [Cooper] thought that I had hurt my lower back," Wittman said, "but that injury was on the left side and doesn't have anything to do with this one. Kenny understands that now."
Since the Dec. 8 game against Wichita, forward Dale Mitchell, defender Bruce Savage and midfielder Joe Barger have missed games because of ankle sprains.
Mettrick and Reynolds (sore right knee) also have been out.
Barger avoided contact in practice yesterday, but is scheduled to play against Dallas. Mitchell, Savage and Reynolds also will play.
NOTES: Wittman and his fiancee, Cindy Thurlow, made Christmas a little more special last night for a needy Essex family of five children (ages 2-17) when they delivered gifts. "I had always been wanting to do something like this," Wittman said, "but I wasn't sure exactly how to do it to make sure the people were really in need. One time I thought about just giving some gifts to people on the street, but how would you know if they were legitimate? So we called Social Services and found out about this family." . . . Rookie Dominic Feltham, a native of Surrey, England, still is awaiting his work visa, clearing him to play for the Blast. Feltham said: "I've already broken the league record for having to wait the longest for my visa. Now I hear it will be at least two more games before I can play."