A surprising series of off-season moves by the Baltimore Blast continued yesterday, when the team said it had released forward Dale Mitchell and would not re-sign veteran goalkeeper Scott Manning.
The release of Mitchell, the fourth-leading scorer in Major Soccer League history, and the move not to sign Manning, who starred for nine seasons in Baltimore, come one month after the decision not to re-sign 10-year veteran midfielder Tim Wittman. Wittman, a Baltimore native, needed 26 points to surpass Stan Stamenkovic as the team's all-time leading scorer.
Also, six-time All-Star Bruce Savage decided to retire after it became apparent he would not be signed to a full-time contract by the U.S. national soccer team. Savage had said there was an outside chance he would return to the Blast if "things don't work out" with the U.S. squad.
Manning was working a soccer camp in Gettysburg, Pa., yesterday and could not be reached for comment.
But he said often during the past season that he felt unappreciated by the Blast. Manning was considered by many to be among the top goalkeepers in the league.
Mitchell is out after one season in Baltimore. He was acquired in a trade that sent Carl Valentine to the Kansas City Comets last summer.
Blast general manager John Borozzi said yesterday the team opted not to re-sign Manning when Tacoma Stars goalkeeper Cris Vaccaro, a product of the University of Baltimore, became available. The Blast came close to signing Vaccaro last season when contract negotiations stalled with Manning.
Vaccaro signed with the Blast on Monday.
Borozzi said Baltimore released Mitchell because it has been obligated since July 1 to pay him at a rate of $72,000 a year -- his salary last season -- instead of the newly agreed upon maximum salary of $60,000.
"Dale has an unusual contract that we picked up from Kansas City," said Borozzi. "It commences on July 1, and we were paying him at $72,000 when all the time we knew that for the league to go on, the maximum individual salary would be $60,000. Also, there is still a remote possibility that all players in the league could be free agents [when the collective bargaining agreement between owners and players is finalized]."
Even though he didn't identify Mitchell, who received the maximum salary last season, Borozzi said, "Some of the top-paid players didn't play like top-paid players for us last season."
The Blast (21-31) finished last in the Eastern Division and missed the playoffs for the first time in their 11-year history.
Borozzi said he telephoned Mitchell to inform him of Baltimore's decision two weeks ago. Borozzi said he has not let Manning know of the decision to go with Vaccaro but said he has been in constant "contact with Scott's agent [Ron Blavatt], and he is aware of what is going on."
Mitchell said: "I don't think the team can afford to pay me. John Borozzi called me the 25th of July and told me the team salary cap was going down. I thought they might call me and talk about $60,000, but they haven't, so I guess they aren't interested in my services."
Mitchell said he hoped to catch on with the Tacoma Stars because the team is close to his Vancouver, British Columbia, home.
"For the second straight year, my contract has been torn up and I've had to move to another city," said Mitchell. "But the guys I feel sorry for are Timmy and Scott because they've been in Baltimore all those years, and it will be hard for them to leave."
Blast comings and goings
Players from last season not offered contracts: Tim Wittman, Scott Manning, Richard Chinapoo, Chris Haywood, Chris Simon (but Simon has been invited to camp as a free agent)
Retired: Bruce Savage
Released: Dale Mitchell
Signed: Cris Vaccaro from Tacoma Stars, Paul Wright from San Diego Sockers, Hank Henry
Close to signing: Billy Ronson, Dominic Feltham
Players in contract talks: Domenic Mobilio, Mike Stankovic, David Vaudreuil, Joe Barger, Mark Mettrick, Angelo Panzetta
Possible addition from Cleveland Crunch: Michael King