Blast adds craft, speed in Wright

Ex-Sockers, Spirit star seen boost to offense


Astute soccer fans, both indoor and out, would probably guess Paul Wright to be in his mid-30s, so long and effective has been his career in both games.

"We wondered about his age, too," said Blast coach Kevin Healey during the announcement yesterday that Wright would be joining the team for the next three seasons, at least.

Back in the days of the old Major Indoor Soccer League, when the original Blast and the San Diego Sockers were battling for the championship each spring, Wright was one of the thorns in the Blast's side.

"I played there four years and we won the title four times," he recalled. "Then I played outdoors in Los Angeles in the A-League for three years."

Wright was back indoors, in Milwaukee, and then with the Baltimore Spirit before becoming a globetrotter, figuratively speaking. "I did a season playing First Division in England and [continued outdoors] playing for Kansas City in the Major Soccer League."

OK, guess his age: (a) 33, (b) 36, (c) undetermined.

"Paul Wright is 29 years old," said Healey, gleefully. It's called jamming the most experience possible into the shortest amount of time without playing year-round.

"I've never played outdoors and indoors at the same time because I've always found it best to focus and put all my energy into one game at a time," said the newest Blast player. "I enjoy both games equally well and, at this time, I just got the itch to play indoors again."

He enters the local picture at a most opportune time. Healey, in reviewing the team's first year back in the NPSL, said the immediate needs of the team are to improve its defense and increase overall team speed.

Wright is a big step toward correcting the latter. Asked just how fast he is, the player looked around the room, packed with sponsors and media types, and quipped, "I'm faster than anyone in this room."

Wright's joining the likes of Denison Cabral, Tarik Walker, Mark Thomas and Franklin McIntosh on the attack almost assures the team will score more, thus relieving some of the pressure on the defense and goalkeeping.

In his one season in Baltimore (1993-94), Wright was good for four points per outing -- 62 goals and 43 assists for 146 points in 35 games. That winter and the one before, when he scored 104 points in 25 games in Milwaukee, he was named to the league all-star team.

Wright had his choice of offers when he made it known he wanted to return to the indoor game, and said he accepted the Blast's bid because "I've played with some of the guys here before, I know the arena and it fits my style of play. I've heard good things about the organization and I wanted to place myself in a familiar environment. Everything just fit."

"In more ways than one," Healey said. "This is a big move for us, and it comes early. As I said before, we're not out to just make the playoffs, but to win it all. We're working on other moves designed to give us a chance at the championship."

NOTES: The NPSL is moving to a 44-game schedule, an increase of four games, but is not adding time to the season. Team owner Ed Hale has been named head of the marketing and promotions committee for the league and said the Blast will have twice as many promotions during the coming season as last year. Hale said ad money and attendance doubled last year over the previous (and last) year of the Spirit, and that he expects to increase ad revenue and sponsorships this season. Healey pointed out that the Blast led the league in improvement, moving its win total from 12 to 19, "and although a 19-21 record was a bit below our expectations, it wasn't that bad, either."

Mania today

Opponent: D.C. United (exhibition)

Site: River Hill High School, Clarksville

Time: 4 p.m.

Outlook: D.C. United (6-3), co-leader in Major League Soccer's Eastern Conference, will be warming up for the league-champion Chicago Fire's visit to RFK on Saturday night. For the 0-5 Mania, last in the A-League's Eastern Conference, the players will be hoping to impress two coaches -- United's and their own -- while prepping for their Saturday night game in Virginia Beach against Hampton Roads (2-3). Pub Date: 5/26/99

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