No one is taking the Blast's 1-4 start harder than midfielders Mike Stankovic, Waad Hirmez and coach Kenny Cooper.
"We have a tremendous history," said Stankovic. "Only Baltimore and San Diego have the history and tradition of winning year after year. I think, maybe, some of our players don't understand what that means when it comes to playing the game."
Sunday night in San Diego the Blast was beaten badly, 7-2, by a Sockers team that looked every bit as good as the one that has won the last two Major Soccer League championships.
But the Blast -- off to the worst start in franchise history -- did not look like a Baltimore team. Its play was ragged. Its power play powerless. Its defense full of holes. And its offense, well, a team has to shoot to score and the Blast did little of that, getting just 17 shots.
"Everyone on the field was doing his own thing," said Hirmez. "We're far, far away from being close to contending for a championship. Some of the players have to start listening."
Hirmez contends the younger players who are new or who have been around only two or three years have to listen to the veterans, "who have seen everything."
On the Blast, the veterans (six years or more) make up a short list: Stankovic, Hirmez, Billy Ronson, Iain Fraser and Cris Vaccaro. Stankovic, who is working as the Blast's assistant coach, agreed with Hirmez about the work that needs to be done.
"We're beating ourselves," Stankovic said. "Our players have to start taking responsibility. It's mental mistakes. And, I think, some of them do not understand what it means playing for a
team like Baltimore or San Diego.
"Players here have to play harder than they've played on any team before, because everybody wants to beat a Mike Tyson," Stankovic said.
"When we say something, the younger guys must listen," said Hirmez. "I'm not taking anything away from their talent. But when our older guys tell them something, they should take note of it and learn, not just let it go out of their system or upset them -- because we keep getting caught with the same mental mistakes."
The Blast has played well enough this season to be 3-2. But the bottom line reads 1-4. And with the regular season reduced from 52 to 40 games, a slow start can mean more trouble than in the past.
Hirmez recalled when he was coming up in the league, the first two or three years, he "listened when the veterans talked" and "I learned and it worked," he said. "But if everybody is going to stick his head out and say 'I'm going to do it myself,' it's not going to work. That's the bottom line. We can lose a lot of games if everyone wants to do his own thing."
Hirmez said there are big roles and little roles and each is intricately linked to the other.
"We don't have the kind of players who can take the game in their hands and do it all, like a Brian Quinn," Cooper said of the San Diego star. "There aren't many players like that around. For us to be successful, everyone has to do his part. For us to win, it has to be the team that wins."
Cooper, surprisingly calm after Sunday's loss, agreed his younger players have to listen more "without being thin-skinned," but added a few more words for thought.
"I know we're still jelling and I knew it would take time," said the coach. "But we're out of time. We've got to play tighter and tougher and be more demanding of each other. These guys have to understand they've had a chance to be part of the solution. Now, we're going to see what options we have."