Baltimore Blast general manager John Borozzi has said several times over the past two weeks that he wants today's challenge match against the Maryland Bays to be "a friendly game that will be a litmus test for outdoor soccer in the area."
But deep down, Borozzi probably knows different.
He probably knows Bays goalkeeper Steve Powers is telling the truth when he says, "You have some egos out there, and if the game gets out of control, the refs will pull us aside and tell us to calm down."
This game has three major themes: It's the Americans (Bays) vs. foreigners (Blast) angle, the pros (Blast) against semipros (Bays) and the indoor (Blast) and the outdoor (Bays).
The entire Bays roster last season was made up of players who were born in or attended college in Maryland.
The 1990-91 Blast roster of 19 players included nine born in the United States.
Bays coach Gary Hindley said he can see an especially competitive fire burning in Baltimoreans John Abe, Chris Reif, Jeff Nattans and Sam Mangione on his team.
"I sense a fire in these guys that this is more than any exhibition game," said Hindley.
Powers, who is from Philadelphia and played at the University of Maryland, said of the Baltimore players on the Bays: "They want to prove to the Blast management they can play the game as well as anyone. Guys like Abe and Reif really want to show what they can do."
Reif had a 15-day taste of the Major Soccer League last March when he played with the Blast. Reif had two goals, two assists and five blocked shots in five games.
To which Blast midfielder Billy Ronson answered: "For me, Chris Reif did a great job. But it's different when you have the pressure of doing it day in and day out. It's all right talking about doing a good job, but doing it is different.
"No one's questioning that the Bays aren't a good team. They wouldn't be the APSL champions if they weren't. If they think they can do it day in and day out in the MSL, they might get a chance to come to our training camp."
Ronson said he is sure that Blast coach Kenny Cooper and owner Ed Hale would give any local player a chance to make the team "if those players think they have a knack for playing indoor soccer."
Hale said last week that he is all for giving local players a close look, but that his immediate concern is for the success of today's game.
"This is a game that should unite the local soccer community," said Hale. "We're an indoor soccer team, but we're more than willing to play an occasional outdoor game if soccer in general is the beneficiary. A lot of people are watching this game closely to see how much interest there is from the fans. Even Alan Rothenberg [U.S. Soccer Federation president] said he's heard about the game and is interested in seeing how we make out."
Bays owner John Liparini said: "The game is more a test of the local soccer fans than the players as far as I'm concerned. If they're interested in the game of soccer, come out and watch. If they're more interested in watching golf on TV, then do that."