Wright's stuff makes him a Blast leader and playoff threat

Quiet, 101-pt. scorer says he's readjusted to indoors after 3-year stay in MLS

Soccer

March 30, 2001|By Glenn P. Graham | Glenn P. Graham,SUN STAFF

He calls it a quiet confidence, but make no mistake, Blast midfielder Paul Wright certainly has been heard.

He scores, he defends, he finds teammates. But most importantly, all season long, he's simply been there.

"You just can't say enough about him," said Blast coach Kevin Healey. "We've had some injuries - Danny Kelly going out and some others - and it was like we put a big piano on his back, and he just took that piano and moved forward like there was nothing to it."

With explosive, instant-respect speed and gifted ball skills to match, the 31-year-old Wright makes it look like there's nothing to it.

There's balance in the 101 points he's put up for the Blast (21-17) so far this season, including 34 two-point goals and 42 assists. That assist total ranks second in the National Professional Soccer League.

There's consistency in the way he's gone about his business in a season filled with injuries for the Blast, which, tied for second place in the American Conference, closes out on the road against conference leader Harrisburg tonight and Philadelphia (21-17) tomorrow.

Perhaps the most important number Wright has punched in this season is 38: how many games the Blast has played and how many games he has played.

"I'm one of the leaders on the team, so I know I have to bring it every night, as much as I can, any time I'm on the field," Wright said. "I think the guys see that and try to respond to that, but I just try to lead by example by playing all the time and doing my job out on the field."

Wright, who started playing professional soccer at 19, enjoyed four championship seasons with the San Diego Sockers of the old Major Indoor Soccer League from 1988 to 1992. More recently, he spent three years playing outdoor ball with Major League Soccer's Kansas City Wizards before joining the Blast last season.

Feeling his way back to the indoor game, Wright finished with 83 points for the Blast last season. This year, he says he completely feels like an indoor player again.

He's perfectly suited.

"He's just so fast with the ball, and he has tremendous skills," Healey said. "A lot of times, players that fast either don't have the same touch on the ball or don't have the explosive shot. He has the three characteristics that makes for a great player."

With those dynamics comes an influence on teammates, a confidence that says anything can get done.

Wright is far too soft-spoken to be considered arrogant, but he knows what he's capable of, and there's an attitude that comes with him on the field.

"I'm not a big talker. It's just basically leading by example," he said. "And when guys see me out there taking charge of a game or a certain situation, they respond to that, and they know I'm always going to be there. I'm very confident in my abilities, and I don't think there's anybody out there that can stop me - I think everybody feeds off of that."

Among other things. Wright's ability to take on and get by defenders creates opportunities not only for himself but teammates.

"Paul has an asset that you can't teach, which is speed," said Blast forward Lee Tschantret. "And his speed opens it up for a lot of stuff. He's not selfish, so when players back off him - which they have to because if they don't he'll blow by them - it gives him passing lanes. He'll give it to you if you're there."

Mired in a three-game slump with the playoffs starting in one week, Wright is - you guessed it - confident going into the postseason.

"Everybody has confidence in one another, and up and down the lineup, we're a strong team with a lot of talent," he said. "I really believe when the playoffs come around, the guys are going to step up, take care of their jobs, and take care of business. And I'll be right there along with them."

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