Seven years ago, in North Geelong, Australia, Robbie Noggler heard about the Major Soccer League from some buddies whose team played an exhibition against the old Los Angeles Lazers.
"They started talking about how much they enjoyed it," recalled Noggler, 22, before yesterday's Blast practice. "I thought then, 'I'd like to give it a go.' Now, seven years later, I'm doing something about it."
It is Noggler's American adventure.
It started with a week in Los Angeles, where he and a friend went searching for Freddy Krueger's house on Elm Street.
"It was a block off Hollywood Boulevard and we wound up 10 feet from a guy pointing a gun at us," said Noggler. "We were in a car, so fortunately, we were able to speed off."
No such nightmare has happened since he arrived in Baltimore Sunday. But his introduction to the indoor game has been just as eye-opening, if not frightening.
"I can't help but feel a little behind," he said. "I think of myself as a fast learner, but the first day, it was very hard to fit in."
Noggler sent a letter, newspaper clippings and a resume to every club in the league.
"Drew [Blast vice president Drew Forrester] actually called me up and said the team would be interested in taking a look," said Noggler. "The Blast was the first to contact me. I thought it was more hospitable than the letters I got later."
Though Forrester misjudged the time, calling around 5 a.m., Noggler was happy to take the call.
"We get a lot of letters, but the fact Robbie was playing in Australia made his stand out," said Forrester. "We know there are a thousand guys out there with talent. You never know where you're going to find it. Kenny [Cooper] and Bob McNab first saw Preki on a black-topped playground on a trip to Yugoslavia. We figured if this guy was willing to shell out that much money to come here to try out, he must be serious."
Noggler, a forward, has played for two Australian World Cup teams, 1988 in Australia and 1990 in Italy. At home in Melbourne, where he is a second-year student at the Swinburne Institute of Technology with a major in biophysics and medical engineering, he plays for an indoor team called the West Sydney Swans.
"The game in Australia is not like this," he said. "The field we play on is about half this size, the goal is smaller, the ball is much smaller and we play with one less player per side. The only similarity is that they are both played indoors."
Which is not to say Noggler isn't finding a place. Before he arrived, the Blast learned he has a strong left foot, good skills and the ability to go one-on-one.
"We've seen nothing to go against that," said assistant coach Mike Stankovic, who is running daily practices while coach Kenny Cooper is hospitalized with a blood clot in his leg. "He shows some good signs. He has a very quick release and an excellent shot, a very accurate shot, and he passes well."
* Bays forward Johnny Abe was at practice yesterday; goalkeeper Steve Powers is expected to show Monday . . . Stankovic said the players already under contract reported in good physical condition . . . Forrester said the Blast has reached a contract impasse with former San Diego Socker Waad Hirmez, but added management is continuing to look for another scorer.