A tireless Kelly giving Blast legs

NPSL: Coach Kevin Healey couldn't be happier with the hard-working midfielder he says "may be the best two-way player in the league."

January 15, 1999|By Lowell E. Sunderland | Lowell E. Sunderland,SUN STAFF

Though the dimly lighted Baltimore Arena was downright chilly, indoor soccer all-star Danny Kelly's two shirts were soaked through with sweat, his long, partly pony-tailed hair matted.

Ending Monday morning's two-hour practice, Blast players ran what once were called "gassers" -- running back-and-forth across the field for two minutes, resting a minute, running, resting, building endurance during 10 minutes of unsung work as much mental as physical.

Kelly followed a yellow line precisely, touching the dasher-board at each end before turning for his next lap. He never missed a touch, the only player so methodical; in fact, only he squeezed every possible step from the drill.

Then, while most of their teammates hit the showers, Kelly and a few others stretched, another solitary conditioner. Kelly, who had been on the field first, and three others left last.

"Any significance to that kind of work?" a visitor asked Kelly, the only 1998-99 National Professional Soccer League all-star from the young, 6-10 but recently improving Blast.

"I just don't like to cut corners," replied the Penn State graduate, named last week a second-team American Conference all-star for the second time in three seasons. "It's little things like that I do to prolong my career."

This diligence began in New York's borough of Queens with the German-rooted Blau-Weiss Gottschee soccer club, which taught him the game well enough to earn himself a college scholarship.

Being second youngest of eight kids honed his competitiveness, too. His six brothers, who played mostly hockey and Gaelic football in New City, N.Y., took it easy on no one, little brothers included, he said, smiling.

Kelly is in his first season in Baltimore and seventh in the NPSL. The rest were with the Harrisburg Heat, which drafted him in 1991 out of Penn State, where he made a freshman All-America team and, as a four-year midfielder, ranks eighth in school career assists.

As a tireless NPSL midfielder who thinks defense first and thrives in transition, he still has been a 100-point-plus scorer in three seasons. He reached his career high of 140 points in 1995-96. In 29 playoff games, he has 39 goals and 22 assists.

In other words, this is one solid player, "a real pro whose play-making ability and leadership have been tremendous," said Blast coach Kevin Healey.

"Danny may be the best two-way player in the league, and he's one of the guys who leads this team."

Kelly sat out last winter, his last under contract to Harrisburg, rehabbing a broken foot suffered during an unexpected call-up by Major League Soccer's D.C. United in 1997, when he was playing outdoors with the A-League's Hershey (Pa.) Wildcats.

"I had a good week of training," Kelly recalled of his bid to make MLS' glamour club.

But then he stepped on a sprinkler head on United's Herndon (Va.) training field and, snap, went his left foot's fifth metatarsal bone.

That misstep may have ended Kelly's chances of playing in U.S. soccer's 3-year-old outdoors big league, although if he were younger, he said, he would aspire to an MLS career with its top-level competition domestically and, for some, internationally.

"But I'm 29. I have a family -- a wife, a stepson who's 10, and a new-born son -- and [trying for MLS] wouldn't be a smart move for me financially," said Kelly.

He is one of a few but growing number of pros fashioning a solid living playing outdoors in the warm months and indoors in winter.

"I have no regrets, although it takes a toll on the body," added the 5-foot-9, 150-pound player, who, with his Cub Hill-raised wife, resides just north of the Maryland line in Glen Rock, Pa.

Kelly returned in 1996 to the outdoor game -- "because I missed it" -- with the A-League's Rochester (N.Y.) Raging Rhinos, then moved to Hershey in soccer's top minor league for his aborted 1997 season.

His foot having healed, Kelly rejoined the Wildcats last summer and at center-midfield became the 19-9 team's most valuable player, as well as an A-League all-star. He hopes to play in Hershey again.

Few, if any, players get such kudos indoors and outdoors, which would indicate that Kelly is at the top of his game.

"It's nice to be recognized by your peers," he said. "But there are great differences between the games, and [because of the broken foot], it's taken me longer than I thought to get back to the standards I have for myself, especially indoors.

"Everything is so much faster indoors. But if you survive, it'll help your outdoor game. Some guys can't make the jump.

"Outdoor soccer is the real game," he continued. "Indoor is the Americanized version -- instant gratification.

"I'm not knocking it. It earns me a living. But I do like playing on real grass."

Blast tonight

Opponent: Milwaukee Wave

Site: Baltimore Arena

Time: 7: 35 Radio: WJFK (1300 AM)

Outlook: It's the start of a three-game weekend for the Blast. The Wave (12-6) has the best winning percentage in the NPSL (.667) despite having lost its last two games (both on the road). Milwaukee goalie Victor Nogueira absorbed his first defeat (after 10 wins) in Montreal on Saturday. The teams have met once, the Blast giving the Wave all it could handle before succumbing on the road, 12-8. Pub Date: 1/15/99

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