It took Cris Vaccaro 11 years, 4,190 saves, 176 victories and five Major Soccer League cities to make it back to the Baltimore Blast, where it all started bleakly for him in 1980.
Vaccaro had just come out of the University of Baltimore soccer program in 1980 and yearned to start a long career with the Blast in its first season in town.
But it never happened.
Vaccaro found himself backing up Sepp Gantenhammer that season and played in only four games before being released.
"Kenny [Blast coach Kenny Cooper] released me at the end of the season," said Vaccaro. "He told me I needed more experience. It was difficult to accept, since I figured the only way I could get experience was by playing."
Vaccaro would go on to get all the experience he needed and a lot more with the New Jersey Rockets, the Cleveland Force, the Chicago Sting, the Wichita Wings and the Tacoma Stars.
He became such an accomplished goalkeeper during the 1980s that Cooper and the Blast were willing to let nine-year veteran Scott Manning go and turn over all the team's goalkeeping duties to Vaccaro.
"We're probably getting Cris Vaccaro at the peak of his career," said Cooper. "He's paid his dues and continues our tradition of always having good goalkeepers such as Scott Manning and Keith Van Eron."
Vaccaro, 33, didn't set the league on fire in his first two games this season, giving up 15 goals in two losses. But lately it's been all show time for the native of Camden, N.J., who came to the University of Baltimore from Mercer (N.J.) Community College.
Vaccaro has been a force in the net during a 5-1 Blast spurt entering tonight's 8:05 game against the Cleveland Crunch at Richfield Coliseum.
He not only is making some big saves, but he also is putting on some open-field moves that have faked out even his teammates and coaches.
Also, Vaccaro became the first goalkeeper in MSL history to lead his team in scoring in a game when he had one goal and one assist in a 6-3 victory over the Crunch on Nov. 23.
In that game, Vaccaro threw the ball about 200 feet into an empty net to score his seventh career goal.
His latest open-field show came last Saturday night in a 6-2 victory on the road against the Dallas Sidekicks. He came out of the goal with the ball and suddenly dribbled around Tatu and Beto before passing to Joe Koziol, who found Domenic Mobilio for a Baltimore goal and a 4-2 lead.
"Cris faked everybody out on the bench when he started going by Tatu," said Blast trainer Marty McGinty. "It was unbelievable. Nobody expected him to do it."
"It was strictly an instinctive thing," said Vaccaro. "I wouldn't try to get away with it very often."
NOTES: Beginning with tomorrow night's 7:35 game against the Sidekicks, the Blast will be honoring a former player at each of the remaining 15 home games this season.
The name of the honored player will not be released until he is introduced that night and presented with a plaque, a photo or "something recognizing his contributions to the club," said Drew Forrester, Blast vice president of soccer operations.