John Liparini, Maryland Bays president and general manager, issued a challenge to the Baltimore Blast yesterday, saying he will prove Bays players deserve a chance to earn positions on the Blast.
"The Blast can take any player they want on their team and I'll put [Bays forward] Jean Harbor out there on the mat with him for a one-on-one encounter. I know Jean would win," said Liparini. "If their guy beats Jean, I'll give him $5,000."
Drew Forrester, Blast vice president of soccer operations, dismissed the challenge last night. "No, we would have no interest in that. Soccer's a team game, and that wouldn't prove anything."
Forrester and the Blast also turned down overtures from the Bays last month to play an indoor exhibition game at Baltimore Arena in early October. The Bays won the outdoor match, 2-0, April 28.
Forrester said the Blast had time during the preseason only to play games against other Major Soccer League teams.
Liparini said his challenge didn't result from any feud or jealousy between the organizations.
"We both respect each other's organization," Liparini said. "The issue boils down to the fact that [Blast coach] Kenny Cooper and Drew Forrester have a different opinion on the talents of Bays players than John Liparini and Pete Caringi [last season's Bays coach] and Gary Hindley [this season's Bays coach]."
Eight Bays players were invited as free agents to the Blast camp that opened Tuesday, but as of yesterday only midfielder John Abe had accepted a tryout. Bays goalkeeper Steve Powers is expected to be in camp Monday.
Harbor, Kevin Sloan and Chris Reif have indicated they do not intend to go to Blast camp unless they receive some kind of commitment or contract from the MSL team.
Harbor rejected a Blast tryout last season, too.
"I told the Blast last year that if they gave me a guaranteed contract I'd come and play for them. Anything less, I'm not going to do it," said Harbor. "Tell Kenny Cooper that I would help him win a championship if I came out and played. I would play for $40,000."
Liparini said: "Our guys can't be treated like rookies or like they're off the street. They [the Blast] are not willing to say our players could make a contribution. I know there are no guarantees of any players making the team. All they have to say is 'If you make the team, you'll get 'X' amount of dollars, and if you get hurt, you'll be covered.' "
Forrester and Cooper have said indoor soccer is a different game than the outdoor game, and, since the MSL team salary cap has been reduced to $550,000 from $650,000, the team can't offer the Bays players contracts.
Forrester said: "We all agree that Jean Harbor is a wonderfully talented player outdoors and is certainly most deserving of the MVP award in that league [American Professional Soccer League]. In history, we've had great outdoors players but they weren't great indoors. Jean's missing an opportunity to prove to us what he can do."