Rookie Celenza adding firepower to the Blast

But defense earns scorer more time on the floor

NPSL playoffs

Soccer

April 21, 2001|By Glenn P. Graham | Glenn P. Graham,SUN STAFF

For Giuliano Celenza, the hometown kid playing for the home team Blast, there wasn't much time to be a rookie.

When the Blast's 2001 territorial draft pick was signed on Feb. 22 -- two-thirds into the season -- coach/general manager Kevin Healey was talking more about what the 22-year-old gifted striker could provide in the future.

But what about now?

"We said at the opening press conference, whatever he gives us the rest of this season is going to be a bonus," Healey said. "And he's given us a great deal. He's done a great job for us."

In the regular season's last 12 games, Celenza, an Archbishop Curley grad and two-year standout at UMBC, scored six two-point goals and added four assists for 16 points. Five goals were game-winners.

He put away three two-pointers in the Blast's two-game sweep of Buffalo in the opening round of the National Professional Soccer League playoffs and now finds himself playing in the American Conference finals, starting tonight against the visiting Philadelphia KiXX.

"While I was growing up, I always said to my mom that maybe one day I could play for the Blast. Now I have the opportunity, and it's been fun," Celenza said. "You can't ask for anything better than your first year being in the conference championship. The only thing that can be better is making it to the finals and winning the whole thing."

Celenza and the Blast are working on it.

When he came aboard, there were no questions about his scoring prowess -- everywhere Celenza has played, he has scored.

Last fall at UMBC, where he led the Retrievers to their second straight trip to the Northeast Conference championship game, he closed out a two-year career with 41 goals and 18 assists, production that earned him NEC Player of the Year honors in both seasons.

"He's just a natural," said Pete Caringi, UMBC coach for eight years. "When he strikes the ball, he hits it as clean as any kid I've ever seen. An analogy would be [how] people talk about Tiger Woods' golf swing. Giuliano's shot -- he very rarely hits a bad ball, a ball that goes high or a ball that goes wide. I think that's what makes him unique."

Practice -- that's the one word Celenza uses most when asked about his uncanny ability to finish.

He began playing organized soccer in East Baltimore at the age of 4, and when he was 5, instead of continuing on in the clinic program, he played on the under-10 team.

"But I started ... kicking the ball around the house when I was 3," he said.

Wherever Celenza has played, the talk has always been centered around the goals he has scored. But it's his defensive effort that has gotten him more and more playing time with the Blast.

"Early on, we were being real careful in situations in not having him on the court at certain times," Healey said. "Right after we score a goal, for instance, is a defensive situation that we wouldn't have him on the court. But we're not as concerned about that now. Defensively, he's been a pleasant surprise and continues to learn from his mistakes."

Despite his special talent, Celenza always has fit in well wherever he has played. Listening, asking questions when necessary and working hard have earned him the respect of his older teammates.

"He's a quiet guy, very respectful, and we talk a lot about soccer," said midfielder Denison Cabral, who rooms with Celenza on the road. "I don't treat him like, `Hey, I've been here a couple years, and you're just coming in.' I respect him the same as the other guys. He's responded so well, to the point he's just another player."

Said Celenza: "It was a big adjustment learning all the different things, but the guys were here helping me out a lot, and they're still helping me. But I'm starting to pick up a lot of things now and just going out there and having fun."

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