One week after the Major Soccer League folded, signaling the end of the Blast after 13 years here, Baltimore got a franchise in the National Professional Soccer League. Now that new team has a name.
Meet the Baltimore Spirit.
"We had a lot of good suggestions," said team owner Bill Stealey. "But my wife kept saying things like: 'We've got to get the spirit going. We've got to rekindle the spirit we used to have when we first started going to indoor soccer games here.'
"Ed [Hale, former Blast owner] and I talked about the Blast's name, and we could have worked something out. But after talking to a lot of people, we decided that while we praise the old traditions, it's time to go build our own name and our own traditions with a new spirit."
Last week, without any advertising, the team sold 380 season tickets. Tomorrow, it will begin a five-figure advertising campaign in area newspapers that will grow to include billboards and radio.
The team colors, suggested by coach Kenny Cooper, will be red and black. Stealey said the team will wear white uniforms trimmed in black and red for home games and red uniforms on the road. Stealey is designing an additional uniform for Sunday afternoon games.
The first player signed by the new franchise is Jason Dieter, a defender from UMBC who was chosen in the first round of the college draft by the Blast last winter.
Team vice president Drew Forrester said negotiations are ongoing with several former Blast members.
The NPSL will hold a dispersal draft of players for new franchises Buffalo and Baltimore the second week of August. Cooper said the team also is seeking to sign a "marquee player."
But no matter who else the Spirit signs, it will be hard-pressed to find anyone more excited or appreciative than Dieter.
A 22-year-old, he played at Archbishop Curley and attended Essex Community College for two years before attending UMBC the past two years. He was drafted by the Blast after a strong performance in the college all-star game here last February.
"Signing is very special to me," said Dieter. "It's everything. I know this is going to sound corny to a lot of people, but being a professional soccer player has always been important to me and my dad. We had Blast season tickets. We went to the games. I've been playing soccer since I was 4 years old. When my grandfather passed away a couple years ago, the last thing I remember him saying to me was that he knew, one day, I was going to be a professional soccer player. He knew how important it was to me."
Dieter will wear jersey No. 19, and though it is the number he wore in college, Spirit management sees it as another tie-in to local traditions. No. 19, of course, will always be Johnny Unitas' number in Baltimore.
"We want to tie in to this city's great civic pride," said Cooper. "Jason is going to wear No. 19. When the Blast came to town in 1980, [local player] Nick Mangione wore No. 19 for us."
Cooper suggested the team colors of red and black to combine many traditions.
The red is a salute to the former MSL franchise, whose primary colors were red and yellow, and black is recognized as a hot color among sports fans. The two, Cooper said, are also the primary colors in the Maryland state flag.