Neither Dale Mitchell nor Carl Valentine can believe his good fortune.
Friends for years, longtime outdoor teammates in the Canadian Soccer League, swapped for each other in the Major Soccer League a year ago, and now, finally, playing together in Tacoma, about a two-hour drive from Vancouver, the city they consider home.
"It's a funny old world, isn't it," said Valentine, as he, Mitchell and their new teammates prepared for a two-game road trip that takes them to Cleveland tomorrow for the Stars' season-opener and then to Baltimore for Sunday's 6:05 p.m. game against the Blast at the Arena.
Funny may not cover it. Valentine had spent three seasons with Cleveland before arriving in Baltimore for the 1988-89 season. He turned in back-to-back all-star seasons here and thought he had found a home. At the same time, Mitchell was working on five years in Kansas City, was the Comets' all-time leading goal-scorer and was making plans to finish his career there.
Suddenly, Valentine was in Kansas City and Mitchell was in Baltimore.
Each was supposed to be the difference between a runner-up finish and a championship for his new team. And while each produced respectable results -- Valentine's 27 goals and 26 assists were second best on the Comets, and Mitchell's 42 goals, 40 assists tied for the points lead on the Blast -- neither had the year he had hoped for.
"Last season started on a real bad note, with that trade," said Mitchell. "Both of us were forced to go somewhere we didn't want to go, but once we got there we did the very best we could. But in my case, the team had a poor season [21-31]. Even if you do good things, they get lost. When the team doesn't win, no one stands out, nor should they."
"In my case," said Valentine, "I got a hamstring injury early on and I never really recovered from that until the playoffs. It was disappointing all around, being sent there the way I was and then getting the injury. This season, I just want to try to get some consistency going. I want to be a playmaker. I just want to be consistent."
The Blast allowed Mitchell to become a free agent as it moved toward a new game plan. Valentine found himself free when the Comets folded unexpectedly last summer.
"The Blast tried to get me back this season," said Valentine. "They couldn't have done any more than they did. But it was a family decision to come to Tacoma . . . We just felt, at this stage, with the league's problems every year, it would be better to be closer to home."
RTC Mitchell said the only team he was interested in, once he became a free agent, was Tacoma.
The Stars were known for their solid defense last season and for their lack of scoring. Valentine and Mitchell, playing on the same line, are expected to take care of the scoring woes.
"I'm really happy to be back here," said Mitchell, who played from 1983 through 1986 in Tacoma and is a native of Vancouver. "I'dbeen thinking about coming back for a couple years, and now Carl and I get to play our first season together indoors. Our friendship has been the one thing that has held true throughout our careers, no matter what's happened. It's going to be fun to see what we can do together indoors."
It is almost as if they closed their eyes, clicked the heels of their playing shoes and repeated, "There's no place like home, there's no place like home."
Certainly, neither is in Kansas -- or Baltimore -- anymore.
VS WICHITA WINGS
* WHEN: Tonight, 8:35.
* WHERE: Kansas Coliseum.
* RADIO: WCAO (AM 600).
VS TACOMA STARS
* WHEN: Sunday, 6:05 p.m.
* WHERE: Baltimore Arena
* RADIO: WCAO (AM 600).
* OUTLOOK: Tonight the Blast (0-1) is hoping the shoe is on the other foot, as it goes into the Kansas Coliseum to take on Wichita. A week ago, Dallas came to Baltimore for the Blast's opener and burned it, 7-3, as the home team suffered from unfamiliarity, nerves and the resulting miscues.
Now, on the road, the Blast will look to back the Wings into that same corner. But Wichita, which outplayed the Blast for the final MSL playoff spot last season, has many of its same players, including David Byrne, Dale Ervine and Chico Borja, so adjustments won't be a worry.
The Blast will be without Rod Castro (strained knee ligamentstonight and he is doubtful for Sunday's game here against
Tacoma. Wichita forward Dan Donigan (left elbow staff infection) is questionable.