Follow the bouncing ball

Soccer: Tarik Walker has been with nine teams in five leagues and six cities. He's happy to be back in Baltimore, where's he's the Blast's No. 2 scorer.

February 16, 1999|By Lowell E. Sunderland | Lowell E. Sunderland,SUN STAFF

Built over nearly six years since college, Tarik Walker's resume reflects the tumult of trying to make a living in pro soccer:

Nine teams, five that failed; six cities, if you count New Castle, Del.; five leagues, one out of business; indoor ball galore, less outdoors; one nice individual honor, a scoring footnote and three championships.

Little fame. No fortune. But a good enough reputation that Walker, 27, who has a pattern of bouncing back to Baltimore, found the Blast willing to trade for him last fall. He is paying dividends for the team owned and coached by bankers.

With 23 goals and 22 assists, Walker is the Blast's No. 2 scorer behind the elusive, acrobatic Denison Cabral.

Walker can be explosive. Against Philadelphia last month, he scored four times in the final period. On Jan. 20, he also became -- after injuries idled the Blast's first two choices -- a first-time National Professional Soccer League all-star. He justified his selection, scoring twice in the American Conference win.

As coach Kevin Healey put it: "We felt this could be a step-up year for Tarik, when he could become a big-time scorer. We also thought he would bring a championship mentality, which this squad needed. He's won in this league and knows what it takes to do that."

Walker's return to Baltimore -- to play for his third local owner -- had mutual admiration society overtones. Walker played on last winter's NPSL-champion Milwaukee Wave, but once he learned of Edwin Hale's purchase of the team last summer, Baltimore beckoned again.

"I wanted to do something with these guys," he said, referring especially to Healey, his first pro coach, and ex-teammate Billy Ronson, now a Blast assistant coach and part-time player.

"The guy's a winner," Walker said of Healey. Ronson, a former English Premier League player and indoor star with the original Blast, was once Walker's roommate, too.

At 6 feet 2, 200 pounds, Walker can forcefully dig balls out of the corners or, back to goal, take passes, spin off a defender and shoot. He also is one of the Blast's quiet players, Healey said, one who can influence teammates by speaking up at critical times.

"I try to lead by example -- do my job first and talk about it later," Walker said. "When you do the job, it means more."

Walker came to Baltimore to begin his pro career after Virginia Tech, where, as a senior, he was the Hokies' most valuable player and an All-South and All-Metro Conference forward.

The outdoor Bays got him first in 1993, but that winter, he excelled for the indoor Spirit (which became the Blast this winter): 38 games, 30 goals, 73 points, 1993-94 NPSL Rookie of the Year.

Though opening the summer of '94 outdoors with the Bays, Walker chased opportunity west to the Continental Indoor Soccer League's Las Vegas Dust Devils. They won the '94 title, and Walker scored "about 13 goals" in 17 games. He doesn't recall exactly, and records are hard to come by; the team went bust the next season.

"Las Vegas was great," he said. "A lot of fun."

But for '94-95, it was back to Baltimore: 24 more goals in 36 games for the Spirit. A broken right foot ended the next summer season, and in the fall of '95, knee-cartilage problems set him back indoors, this time up Interstate 83 with the Harrisburg Heat. His output fell to 15 goals in 29 games, not good for a forward in "human pinball."

He split the summer of '96 between the Bays and the CISL's Washington Warthogs, the first of two summers representing his hometown.

Walker started soccer at age 5, when his father, a former Howard University player, put him into clinic ball. He honed his fundamentals as a teen-ager in Montgomery County and around the Capital Beltway, playing club ball in Potomac, winning two State Cups. And as a high school senior at Wheaton's Good Counsel, he was on another championship side.

Outdoors in '96 and '97, the Bays were so-so. But Healey's indoor Bays won three straight I-League titles from 1995-98. On the second team, Walker's 19 goals and seven assists were the league's sixth-best.

The CISL folded after the 1997 season, and the player-dispersal draft sent Walker to the NPSL's Wave, for whom he played in all 40 regular-season games, putting in 33 goals for a career-high 78 points. In 11 playoff games, Walker scored 10 more times and had eight assists, a solid championship contribution.

In a game against Harrisburg, Walker even squeezed into the NPSL's record book, tied with four others for second-quickest goal, eight seconds.

Walker was a winner again last summer with the D3 Pro League's Delaware Wizards, who went 16-5, won the Atlantic Division, but lost in the playoffs to eventual league champion Chicago Stingers.

"It's been a good experience, coming back," said Walker, who is averaging just under a goal a game with the Blast. "That's my goal, actually. When I came into the league, I'd get four or five points in a game, then not score for two or three. I'm trying to be that consistent guy."

Pub Date: 2/16/99

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