The Blast, in a fight for its playoff life, will lose veteran midfielder Billy Ronson today, possibly for the rest of the regular season.
Ronson, 35, who has been off his game most of the season, is to undergo knee surgery this afternoon.
Blast doctor Joseph Ciotola will perform the operation on Ronson's right knee to determine whether the problem is, as suspected, a partially torn meniscus cartilage that would sideline Ronson for three weeks.
The problem, however, could be a cyst in the back of the knee pinching the tendons. If that were the case, Ronson could be back in time for the final game of the regular season here, April 4, against the Tacoma Stars.
"Either way, I'll play again this season," he said. "The only reason I'm having this surgery now is so I'll be back in time for the playoffs."
But the Major Soccer League playoffs look a lot further away today than they did when the Blast boarded a flight to Wichita, Kan., on Thursday.
With a 5-4 overtime loss to the Wichita Wings on Friday and a 10-4 pounding by the Cleveland Crunch on Saturday, the Blast dropped from third place in the MSL standings to 1 1/2 games out of fourth. Only the top four teams make postseason play.
Ronson played both games, but was not a factor in either one.
"All season I've been out there running around, but it's not me," he said last night. "Sometimes the pain feels like I'm being stabbed with a knife. I never make excuses, but a blind man could see I'm not myself."
Ronson had been a key offensive weapon for three seasons before this one. He had a career-high production of 35 goals and 33 assists a year ago, but this season has just 14 goals and 11 assists in 36 games.
"I hurt it in our first game in Wichita last October," Ronson said. "But I'm not the type to go say, 'I don't think I can play.' It's not me. The knee would hurt and I'd come home and think about it. If I told them I couldn't play and didn't play, what then? I'm paid to play. This has been soul destroying. To me, it's a waste of time to be injured."
So Ronson continued to try. Yesterday, he and Blast coach Kenny Cooper sat down and came to a decision.
"He asked me what I want and I told him I want me back out there," Ronson said. "The only way to do that is to get surgery."
Cooper, who said he thinks his team must win its final four games to ensure earning a playoff spot, said the best thing for the team in the long run is to "get to the bottom" of what is wrong with Ronson's knee.
"It has bothered him most of the season and, as physical as these games are, there is no way he couldn't aggravate it," Cooper said. "The way it is, it takes away his effectiveness, so we have to get it fixed and get him back. It's definitely a setback for us."
Blast defenders Iain Fraser and Rusty Troy -- both injured in Saturday's game -- also will visit doctors today to have X-rays, Fraser to determine the extent of injury to his hamstring and Troy to make sure nothing is broken in his foot.