The Maryland Bays and the Baltimore Blast are very busy these days pointing fingers -- but not the way it's usually done.
"I mentioned the idea of this game to Ed," Bays owner John Liparini said of a conversation with Blast owner Ed Hale. "And Ed's reaction was, 'We don't want to embarrass you guys,' "
"I don't remember saying exactly that," rejoined Hale. "We're the ones who don't want to be embarrassed."
They're playing it so cool before this unprecedented meeting between the National Professional Soccer League champion Bays and the Major Soccer League's Blast. The game is at the UMBC soccer field Sunday, 5:30 p.m.
Who's the favorite? Ask the Blast and the Bays are. Ask the Bays and the Blast rolls to the top. Even the pre-game advertising is shades of gray: just the facts, ma'am: Who, what, when and where.
See the open door? After you. No, no. After you. They'll probably trip over each other running on to the field.
What's going on here?
It's a big match. It's indoor vs. outdoor. It's bragging rights. It's pro vs. (ahem) no one even wants to suggest the Bays to be semipro, although, officially that's what they are until the U.S. Soccer Federation votes next month to up the APSL's status to equal footing with the MSL.
To hear these guys tell it, it's a tea-sipping contest.
"There is a lot of excitement about this game," said Blast general manager John Borozzi. "But I wouldn't call it a grudge match."
Who are they kidding?
Everyone knows outdoor players hate the indoor game. It's for old guys who can't play outdoors any more. It's for guys who don't have the guts to hoe the hard road of the underpaid outdoor game. It's for guys who can't play outdoors well.
And the indoor guys? Hey, they hate the put-downs. They know they're just as good as the outdoor players. The bottom line is they're soccer players.
Heck, before the 1990 World Cup, San Diego coach Ron Newman said a team of MSL indoor players should play a series against the U.S. National team and the winner should represent the United States in the World Cup. Newman obviously didn't think much of the U.S. National team.
So now comes this meeting. The Bays and the Blast. It should be a rouser. But we're supposed to think everyone is best friends.
And, gee, both sides are hurting. Bays midfielders Rob Ryerson (injury) and Bruce Murray (U.S. National team) aren't available and neither is leading scorer Phillip Gyau (foreign commitment). On the Blast's side, Tim Wittman, Mark Mettrick and Dominic Feltham are among the injured.
And, gosh, Bays coach Gary Hindley hasn't really thought about this game yet. And, Blast coach Kenny Cooper and assistant Jimmy Pollihan are working their guys every day, but they just want the fans to come away feeling good about having seen two fine teams play an excellent brand of soccer.
Please, can we borrow a cup of sugar?
What have we got here, a bunch of wimps? Won't anyone be a man about this?
"It's in the back of your mind that we have something to prove," said Bays goalkeeper Steve Powers. "We want to show them we can play. It's a matter of professional pride. I think when we get out there it will be no holds barred."
Well, it's not Muhammad Ali, but it's a start.