Aston Villa coach Ron Atkinson is giving nothing away, but if he knows anything about the Blast, he probably can't wait to get today's Micro Prose Trans Atlantic Challenge started.
"We're looking forward to the game, but I think we will go in as second favorites," Atkinson said from Birmingham, England. "We were just recently on a trip with Sheffield Wednesday, and they all told me the Blast is a fine side. . . . I would think they would have the edge when it comes to tactics."
Both sides have worked hard in news conferences and appearances the past five days to sell out today's match in the 10,800-seat National Indoor Arena in Birmingham.
In two previous trips to England, the Blast has had the tactical edge. It also has had the advantage of fielding a team that had been together since training camp four months earlier and whose specialty is indoor soccer.
But, tactics aside, Aston Villa, which finished seventh in the 21-team English First Division, should have a fighting chance. Atkinson said his entire outdoor squad is fit.
The coach said he never has seen an American indoor game, but did play in a European indoor contest in the 1970s and considers it to be like ice hockey. He has had his side practicing indoors since the English outdoors season ended two weeks ago.
The Blast also has continued to practice since being ousted from the Major Soccer League playoffs last month. But the Blast is the Blast inname only on this trip. Run a finger down the Blast's regular-season roster and see if these names appear: Keith Furphy, Goran Hunjak, Jason Dieter, Shaka Hislop or Preki.
Furphy played seven seasons in the MSL, including his last two, 1986-88, with the Blast. Hunjak is a forward with the Wichita Wings and Preki an All-Star with the St. Louis Storm. Dieter, a forward from UMBC, and Hislop, an All-America goalkeeper from Howard, are the Blast's first- and second-round draft choices, respectively.
The Blast is without starting goalkeeper Cris Vaccaro, with the Puerto Rico national team; leading scorer Domenic Mobilio, with Vancouver in the Canadian Soccer League; and Jean Harbor and Kevin Sloan, who are playing in the American Professional Soccer League.