In recognition of his services

Blast: Forward Mark Thomas, who played in obscurity for the Florida Thundercats, now enjoys getting noticed by fans on the streets of Baltimore.

November 06, 1999|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

When Blast forward Mark Thomas is out in the city and the subject of his occupation comes up, he no longer get the quizzical looks when he says what he does for a living.

That is one of the advantages Thomas has starting the season with the Blast -- who play in Philadelphia at 7: 30 tonight -- as opposed to the now defunct Florida Thundercats, the team Thomas played for at the beginning of last season.

"We lived right by the arena [near Fort Lauderdale] Florida, and there were soccer people who didn't even know who the team was," said Thomas, who was traded to the Blast after 25 matches. "And these were people who played soccer and lived five minutes from a brand new, multi-million dollar arena that held 18,000 people. You know you are in a big hole there.

"Here, the Blast name is good. If I talk to somebody on the street, or I'm in a store, you get noticed. They say, `Hey, don't you play for the Blast?' You get recognized, which is nice."

Thomas, 31, signed with the Thundercats at the beginning of last season, saying he wanted to help build the franchise. He was coming off back-to-back 100-point seasons in Cleveland and Cincinnati.

Twenty-five games into the season, the Thundercats' management decided to trade away all the top players. Thomas was the first to go, on Feb. 18. Goalkeeper Scott Hileman soon followed Thomas to Baltimore.

"It pretty much all went down in a week," Thomas said. "Mentally, it was tough. I signed a three-year deal thinking I was going to help this franchise get off its feet and make a name, which I was excited to do. It just never really got off the ground."

He scored 40 points in 13 games with the Blast last season and has been part of the reason the Blast is off to a 3-0 start this season. Thomas has four goals, including three in the last match against Milwaukee.

More important than his ability to score, Thomas brings intelligence and good communication to the game, Blast coach Kevin Healey said.

And he brings championship experience, having won a title with Cleveland.

"The thing that sets Mark apart is his understanding of the game," Healey said. "He is a very intelligent player. He knows how to find his rhythm in the game and play with his teammates.

"He communicates all the time in a low-key fashion. You have to be able to do that in indoor because of the small space. You need to tell your teammates when you have time and when you don't have time. He does that well."

He has to. Thomas, 6 feet 1, 185 pounds, admits to not being the fastest or having the best ball-handling skills. So he communicates and uses his teammates' skills, such as Paul Wright's speed, to create opportunities for himself.

"He likes to talk a lot," Wright said.

"You listen to what he has to say. For the most part, he knows what he is talking about. It is good for some of the younger players to hear somebody so vocal like that."

Depending on injuries, his role may change this season. With forward Erik Rasmussen and veteran forward Tarik Walker playing well, Healey is considering moving Thomas to the midfield.

He will stay at forward tonight, when the Blast faces Philadelphia for the third time this season. The Blast won the last match, 16-15, two weeks ago in the Spectrum.

Philadelphia (1-2) is coming off a 20-17 win over defending-champion Cleveland last Saturday.

"That is difficult, to play a team that many times," Healey said.

"The thing we need to do is go back to the basics -- look at the game film and analyze what has worked, play the same type of game that we've played, and carry on what we've been doing."

Blast tonight

Opponent: Philadelphia KiXX

Site: First Union Spectrum, Philadelphia

Time: 7: 30

Radio: WCBM (680 AM)

Outlook: The Blast can go a long way in establishing its bid for a division title with a third straight win over its biggest obstacle tonight. The KiXX is coming off an emotional, come-from-behind 20-17 victory over Cleveland last week. The defending division champion KiXX will need big games from goalkeeper Peter Pappas and forward Domenic Mobilio, who led the charge a week ago.

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