When Kevin Sloan was growing up and playing soccer at Oakland Mills High School, he didn't have much interest in the Blast or indoor soccer. His dreams revolved around the outdoor game. If he could do anything in the world, he thought, he'd play soccer in Germany -- or somewhere in Europe.
"When I was a kid," says Sloan, now a Blast midfielder, "I had no idea how long the indoor game would last, but outdoors is forever -- maybe not in the United States, but certainly in the rest of the world."
So maybe it's fitting that Sloan began turning his indoor game around last month during the Blast's trip to England, where it beat British outdoor power Sheffield Wednesday.
Since the Sheffield Wednesday game, in which he had two assists, Sloan has worked his way into the starting lineup.
In the 15 games he played before the Sheffield match, he had two goals, one assist. In the past three, he has tripled his production to six goals, two assists. He also has a three-game scoring streak and last Sunday, in the Blast's 7-5 win over the Cleveland Crunch, Sloan had his first multipoint game, contributing two goals, one assist and a strong defensive effort. All of which prompted Blast coach Kenny Cooper to say it was a "Heart and Sloan victory."
Before the Blast left for tonight's game in the St. Louis Arena against the Storm, Sloan sat on a seat in the team's practice facility and fidgeted. It had nothing to do with being nervous; it was simply a demonstration of his energy level.
"Kevin has such high energy, he never stops," says Cooper. "What I have been trying to tell him is that you can't play at 110 mph every shift. There are times to slow down. I know it has been frustrating for him. How do you tell a guy he's got great skill and two good feet and terrific energy, but it's not going to work?
"He wanted to do everything on every shift. Some times he'd run on to a ball and before he could settle it, he'd be past it."
Sloan is in his first season with the Blast, but the 26-year-old is not a rookie. As a member of the Maryland Bays, he found out what it's like to win a national championship in 1990, when the Bays won the American Professional Soccer League title.
Last season, he found out what it was like to be among a league's best scorers. Sloan produced 14 goals and four assists to finish second to Bays (and now Blast) teammate Jean Harbor in the league scoring race.
When he signed on with Baltimore last summer, he did not arrive thinking he would lead the Blast to a championship. But he did come in expecting to make an impression and help the team win.
"The guys, coach, everyone kept telling me to slow down," says Sloan. "But until Ali Kazemaini arrived, I didn't get the essence of it."
It is a startling revelation. No two players could be more different. Sloan, the aggressive, high-energy player who can run all day; and Kazemaini, the ball-control specialist who changes the pace of the game and is happiest when he does not have to move beyond midfield.
"I don't mean we're the same type of player, we're not," Sloan says. "But when Ali came, it meant I had to sit out. He played and I watched. I didn't want to come off as a very young guy, so I didn't ask him about how he did things. I didn't want his philosophy on how he plays the game. I just watched how he did things.
"I've learned how to position myself, how to slow up the game -- little things like that.
Now, when he's on the field, he is fully concentrated. Anyone watching Sloan play can see it: he is almost always having a conversation with himself on every shift.
"Fans probably wonder who I'm talking to, when I'm out there," he admits. "Well, I'm talking out loud to myself. 'Kevin do this. Kevin don't do that.' The whole idea is to be concentrated."
The whole idea is to make Cooper play him.
"I figure if someone is scoring goals and getting back on defense for you, it's hard to not play that guy," Sloan says. "That's what drives me. If I can do those things and help the team win, then that helps my security."
Cooper said he doesn't know who got the message through to Sloan, but he agrees he has a different player.
"It's like a light bulb went off," says Cooper. "It's 'Now I know. Now I see. Now, I must play that way.' He's terrific. He's earned a starting spot. All that energy -- and now he's channeling it in the right directions."