SHEFFIELD, England -- The Baltimore Blast will remember a Wednesday night in Sheffield for a long while. Not only because it scored an 8-3 victory yesterday against the Sheffield Wednesday club, one of England's best, but also because of the manner in which it was achieved.
"I hope what this has done has been to gain us a little respect in the soccer world," coach Kenny Cooper said. "The result itself is not so important. Hopefully, we have endorsed the game of soccer, especially indoor soccer."
Had the game been outside, in subfreezing temperatures with 11 on a side, the Blast likely would not be returning home today with quite so many smiles.
"Sure, the score would probably have been reversed," Blast owner Ed Hale said. "But this was indoors."
And because it was, and despite the pedigree of the English team -- Chris Woods, the national team goalie, was among the Sheffield Wednesday starters -- Sheffield could not cope with the pace of the visitors.
After a nervous start, Baltimore was quickly into its stride. Rusty Troy, assisted by Billy Ronson, opened the scoring at 5 minutes, 45 seconds of the first quarter. Sheffield tied it on Danny Wilson's goal, but, by the half, the Blast led, 4-2, thanks to a goal by Ronson and two by Domenic Mobilio.
The sellout crowd of more than 8,000 was frequently on its feet to cheer the American team, and by the time Troy and Jean Harbor had made it 6-2, the game was over as a contest. Troy received the Most Valuable Player award from a panel of soccer writers, but it was very much a team effort.
"Sheffield came out fired up and put us under some pressure, but we handled it with a lot of discipline," said Cooper, one of several Englishmen on the Baltimore squad. "When you looked at their roster, it was awesome, but, by the end, we were giving them a clinic on indoor soccer."
America may be behind when it comes to the type of soccer played throughout the world -- outdoors -- but it sure knows how to play within walls.
"This is our game. This is the American game, and I'm proud of my players," said Cooper, whose team last year beat another English squad, Oldham, 6-1.
His players were not the only Americans on the field yesterday. In the Sheffield midfield was John Harkes, the one expatriate who has made it big in England and is a regular member of the Sheffield team. But even he must have been impressed by the indoor know-how of his countrymen.
Hale said the atmosphere in the arena and the generosity of the Sheffield people had intensified his goal of expanding the Major Soccer League to Europe and especially to Britain. Four cities, Sheffield and Manchester in the north, Birmingham in the midlands and London in the south, are being considered as franchises.
Soccer officials in England are interested, even if they require more research.
"Indoor soccer is not just the outdoor game played indoors; it's a totally different game," said Graham Mackrell, a high-ranking Sheffield Wednesday official. "It's explosive, and we don't see it as a threat to our national sport, which primarily is played outdoors."
The fans certainly came out in force yesterday, to the delight of Bob Sullivan, an American who runs the Sheffield Arena.
"Selling out is something we never expected," Sullivan said. "We'd like to stage more games with American teams in the future. I think a franchise should be examined closely."