When the Maryland Bays open defense of their American Professional Soccer League championship tomorrow on the road against the Penn-Jersey Spirit, they will do so with a stronger team than they had a year ago.
The problem is that three of the Bays' top players -- Desmond Armstrong, Bruce Murray and Jeff Agoos -- also are members of the U.S. National team and will be available only sporadically throughout the season.
"It is a whole lot of problem," said Bays forward Jean Harbor, whose eight goals and six assists made him the third-leading scorer in the APSL last season. "Guys coming and going. If you do not play and practice all the time together, what do you have? You do not have a team.
"The guys who play for the national team, what do you do with them when they show up here?" Harbor said. "Do you play them and bench the guys who have been here every day working hard? Complaining would not be out of the question. How do you keep everyone happy? It is a hard question."
It is the one of the biggest questions facing first-year coach Gary Hindley as the Bays prepare for the opener on the AstroTurf surface of Dean Field on the Trenton State College campus tomorrow at 7:30 p.m.
"I actually do think they [the Bays] are better than last year," said Hindley. "But last year they won all the close games, they avoided injuries and did all the right things. Fairy tales come out right when those things happen.
"Depth is better this season, but will we be a cohesive unit?" Hindley said. "I think it is too early to tell." He said the team's fate could rest on the performances of the "regulars" -- the players who will start when Armstrong, Murray and Agoos are unavailable.
Their attitude and how they adjust to the transients could very well be the difference. But one guy Hindley will not have to worry about is Harbor.
Harbor, the 6-foot-1, 195-pound target man, will be depended on more than he was last season, at least in the early going. Phillip Gyau -- the Bays' leading scorer and the league's MVP last season, when he had 12 goals and six assists -- has a hip injury and is unavailable indefinitely.
He spent the winter playing for a first division team in Belgium, and he is still in Belgium, Hindley said yesterday. Bays management is encouraging Gyau to return here to rehabilitate his hip and progress toward rejoining the APSL champions.
"This team was so successful last season, I didn't want to change the rest of what was going on because of the absence of Phillip," said Hindley, who succeeded Pete Caringi in March, after Caringi became head coach at UMBC. "So I brought Brian Haynes here from Orlando. He is similar to Phillip in that he is a true winger and a leftfooted player. I'm hoping that makes the adjustment easier for Jean."
Hindley clearly is looking forward to working with Harbor. "I've never had a target player of his ability," the coach said. "He makes the whole game different. Every time he gets the ball, it has the potential to be in the back of the net. Jean can be the offense."
And that means opponents will be focusing their attention on trying to stop him.
"It does not make it easier that others know of my ability," Harbor said. "It makes it very much harder. It is more worry. It means everyone is coming after you and that is more pressure. And it means I have to work much harder to do what I am capable of doing."
As for the addition of Haynes, Harbor said that while the 6-foot-1 forward is physically similar in his style and abilities, it will still take some time for the two of them to work well together.
"With Phillip, I know exactly where he wants the ball," Harbor said. "And Phillip knew automatically that when I go up for the ball, he has to make a run, because I'm going to give the ball back to him. It will take a little time for Brian and me to develop such a relationship."
How much time it takes could determine how much better the Bays can be this season.