Call him a Blast. Call him a Bay. Just don't call him Wrong Way.
That's the feeling defender Joe Barger takes into Sunday's game between the Baltimore Blast and the Maryland Bays.
"I'm hoping I don't accidentally throw the game by making a mistake at the wrong time," said Barger, who happens to be a member of both teams. "I don't think I'll forget what side I'm on."
He'll be playing for the Blast in Sunday's game, which is the first of its kind. It features the defending American Professional Soccer League champion Bays, who play outdoors, against the Major Soccer League's Blast, who play indoors.
Barger, 24, is a member of the Blast during the indoor season and then joins the Bays for the summer outdoor season. His Blast contract runs through May.
"I practice with the Blast and the Bays," said the Baltimore native and former Loyola College defender. "It's a new situation, but I don't have any problem with it. When I go on the field, my job is to play as hard as I can for the team I'm playing for. It wouldn't make any difference to me if I saw my mother, father and three brothers lined up for the other team. I'd still be trying to beat them."
The game, which starts at 5:30 p.m., is going to be a festive occasion. The gates will open at 3:30 p.m., and when fans enter 4,500-seat UMBC Stadium they will find it surrounded by World Cup banners. Information booths will be set up near the entrance as the two clubs begin the local push that will see the MSL and the APSL working together under the U.S. Soccer Federation's umbrella toward making a success of the 1994 World Cup, which will be staged in the United States.
Blast and Bays players will participate in a soccer clinic from 4 to 5 p.m. and players from both clubs will be available for autographs following the game.
Unlike most outdoor games, there will not be an overtime or a shootout. Official reasoning is threefold:
One, the Blast's outdoor conditioning may not be at its best, making extra play unfair. Two, lighting could be a problem if the game goes overtime. Three, officials are already envisioning Bays/Blast II should it end in a tie -- and even if it doesn't. Everyone deserves a rematch, of course.
Barger admits this game is going to be a little "odd" for him.
In the morning, he works out with the Bays as they prepare for their upcoming season. In the afternoon, he's been practicing with the Blast. During those afternoon sessions, there has been a certain amount of humor as everyone has adjusted to being outdoors, on grass.
"The first day we were out there it was a beautiful day," said Blast assistant coach Jim Pollihan. "Everyone thought it was great. The next day, it was cold and wet, and everyone looked around and wondered, 'What are we doing out here?' "
"Everyone felt a little uncomfortable at first," Barger said. "The ball was bouncing funny across the mouth of the goal. Guys were missing shots and being given a hard time for it. But other times, things get very intense, to the point where we're almost fighting. Just like indoors."
"We're getting there," Blast midfielder Billy Ronson said after the Blast scrimmaged UMBC last night and won, 3-0. "I don't think Joey has any mixed loyalties in this game. In the summer he does one helluva job for the Bays, but right now he's doing it for us."
Meanwhile, Barger's outdoor teammates are razzing him, just a little.
"When we play the Blast, we'll have to watch out for Domenic Mobilio," said Bays goalkeeper Steve Powers. "The last time we saw Dom, he was scoring goals against us for the Vancouver 86ers in the North America championship game [a game Vancouver won in overtime, 3-2). Joey covered him. Maybe it's not so bad Joey's playing for the Blast."
Bays midfielder Rob Ryerson said, "We'd like to have Joey playing for us. He's a pro and he's going to play hard for whatever team he is on." But Powers needled, "We shouldn't hear too much out of Joey. He'll have his hands full defending [Bays forward] Jean Harbor."
Barger is trying to keep his personal feelings under wraps. No one knows which team he believes to be the better one.
"I'm just going to give it everything I have Sunday to beat the Bays," Barger said. "Then Monday, I'm going to practice with the Bays and do everything I can to help us repeat as the APSL champs."
The Bays open their regular season May 4 at the Penn-Jersey Spirit. Their home opener is at Cedar Lane Park in Columbia, May 11 against the Fort Lauderdale Strikers.