It's not a pretty sight, seeing a relatively little guy sprawling painfully on the green Arena carpet, writhing in pain. When the Blast's Rod Castro does it, he does it so well, not even his wife knows if he will survive.
It is the art of the dive: The Great Fake. The Big Fall. In other words, the ability to draw a foul call, even when a foul may not have been committed.
The first time Castro's wife, Dianna, went to a game, Castro pulled one of his best injured routines.
"Dianna hated it," said Castro. "I'd go home after the game and she'd say, 'I don't want you to ever do that again, because it kills me.' I told her, the only time she needs to worry is if she sees me not moving, because that's when I'll really be hurt, when I'm knocked out or something. If you see me writhing around in pain, it's probably more of an act than anything else. It's the truth.
"If the fans just look in my wife's direction and see her laughing her heart away, they can believe it's nothing serious."
Castro is the latest in a line of Little Big Men, all 5 feet 6 or shorter, who have joined the Blast and made an impact. Their size alone has been enough to irritate opposing coaches. "You get all these little people," St. Louis coach Don Popovic complained to Blast coach Kenny Cooper. "They are so little, we cannot even find them, let alone defend them."
Now, with Castro, the Blast not only benefits from his low center of gravity, but from his ability to act.
"Maybe I just have Vaseline on my shoes," said the 5-foot-6 Castro, smiling at the number of times he seems to be tripped by the opposition. "I think it's because I'm low to the ground, I can hold the ball a little better and the only way defenders can get it away from me is by fouling me or nicking the ball away.
"But ever since I played in youth soccer, I've been able to draw a foul. I don't know why, but I do have the ability, if someone gets close to me, to make it look bad enough to get the foul call. If I'm fouled, I'd say I've got a 60-40 chance of getting the call and I'd rather do that than lose the ball."
Cooper says Castro takes a lot of physical abuse in games, but adds he is very cunning and uses that abuse to his advantage.
"He is a pain to play against," Cooper said. "It's unusual for someone his size to be willing to go in the corners and up against the boards. I think the way he draws fouls is an art -- and when you're trying to defend against it, it is frustrating as hell."
Castro, of course, is not the only player in the Major Soccer League who can bring the worst out in a defender. The Dallas Sidekicks, who play here tomorrow at 8:05 p.m., have one of the best in Tatu.
If watched closely, it is obvious these players nearly always find a way to get a goal, an assist or a foul call.
"They will deliberately run into situations they don't see a way out of," said Cooper. "They know their skill or a foul call will do it for them."
Since the sixth game of the season, when Castro was moved from midfield to forward, he has been using all his tricks. In the last 13 games, he has eight goals, 13 assists for 21 points.
"In San Diego, I was never sure I was going to play," Castro said. "There were [Branko] Segota, [Paul] Wright, Wes Wade and me all trying to get time. You always felt if you made a mistake, you might not play again. Ron [coach Ron Newman] never gave me the assurance I needed to just go out and play.
"When people look at me playing now, they probably think I have great confidence," he continued. "And I am confident, but that confidence has been given to me by my coach. When I came here, I was told I'd be given responsibility and that I'd be depended on to produce. I'm the kind of player that when someone shows confidence in me, I'm going to go out and work my butt off to show him he was right to give me the chance."
Against Dallas, Castro will be working against a number of defenders, including veteran Mike Uremovich.
"What Rod does is really a skill he has developed," said Uremovich. "As a defender it is very frustrating. First you have Rod, a very skillful
player, which would be hard enough to defend. Then you add this developed ability he has to fall a certain way and get a foul and it's twice as bad. . . . As a defender you know if you've committed a foul -- most of the time. But usually, there he is on the floor acting like you've just killed him and you know you haven't."
Uremovich may know it's an act, but Dianna Castro isn't always sure. She tries to take it all in good humor, but says it's particularly hard right now, since she is expecting their first child.
"Sometimes he goes headfirst into the boards, and I'll be smiling, because I think I know he's faking," she said. "I don't like to say he fakes anything, some of the fouls are real. But I'm a nervous wreck. I tell him 'Let's at least work out a sign you can give me, so I'll know.' But he says, 'I can't just pick my head up and smile or give a thumbs-up, now can I?' "