Wright attacks foes at full blast

Soccer: Blast midfielder Paul Wright is a bit older and wiser, but no less adept at making statements with his words or his play.


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

The subjects can range from explosive speed to vintage passes to supreme confidence.

Winning championships, scoring goals, defending and working as hard in the gym as on the field are also thrown in.

Blast midfielder Paul Wright, 32, whose actions have spoken louder than words in the early season, is the no-beating-around-the-bush authority.

"I've always thought I'm the best all-around player in the league," he said. "Whether I perform like that all the time is another story. I can't shine every game, but I try to do it as much as I can. I push myself - if I have an average game, I want to have a great game; if I have a great game, I want to have another great game on top of that."

The Blast is off to a nondescript 3-4 start going into tonight's game against the visiting Cleveland Crunch, but Wright's play - he ranks fourth in the Major Indoor Soccer League in scoring with four two-point goals and 12 assists for 20 points - has been as good as advertised.

"If he's going to continue to step up his game, it's going to give us a much better chance to win the championship," Blast coach Kevin Healey said. "His fitness level is unbelievable, his skill level is tremendous, his intensity in the game is very good and he's off to an outstanding start."

When Wright returned to Baltimore in 1999 (he first played here in the 1993-94 season), he came with four championships from his days with the San Diego Sockers in the old MISL, three years of outdoor experience with the Kansas City Wizards of Major League Soccer, the same devastating speed and quickness he has used to separate himself from the beginning of a career that began at age 19 and, perhaps most importantly, an I'm-better-than-you attitude.

"He gives us that swagger every team needs a little bit of - confidence mixed with cockiness," said Blast forward Tarik Walker. "When he's on your side, you feel that way, too."

With the Blast trailing 9-6 in the last four minutes against the Kansas City Comets on Nov. 9, Wright demonstrated his constant desire to be the man at critical times.

First, he finished off a difficult chance in tight quarters inside the box, using his left foot to one-time a ball sent in off the boards by Danny Santoro to cut the lead to 9-8 with 3:26 left. Less than a minute later, Wright somehow found Lance Johnson charging toward the goal through much of the same congested traffic to set up the game-winning score.

"It's something that you expect," said Blast defender Jason Dieter. "It's not like it should shock you that he does something like that, because we depend on that. But when he does it, it's always something special.

"I tell him every day: You have to be our leader - the ball goes through you. He's living up to that."

Wright's great speed (he still runs a 4.2-second 40-yard dash) has always been the starting point. But once he decided to use that gift on the soccer field, he's worked at refining his trade.

"I made a career choice to play professional soccer, and I work hard at it," said Wright, who also works as a personal trainer and has only 3 percent body fat on his 5-foot-10, 165-pound frame. " ... I want to be a complete player, and that's what I strive for. I want to be able to defend, to score, to make passes."

Wright does all those things. And fast. Just ask Blast veteran defender Doug Neely, who has played with and against him.

"I remember one time when I was playing in Kansas City and he was in San Diego. I'm thinking I'll give him about five or 10 feet, that should be enough," Neely said. "A ball was chipped over as we were at midfield and then all of a sudden, `Vooooom!' Literally, by the time I turned around to get the ball, he was on it, dribbling down the field and scoring. On the way back he was like, `Uh, Dougie, you're going to have to give me more room than that.' Smoke was blowing out of my ears, but I had to laugh about it, too."

"He's a veteran player and very smart," said Harrisburg coach Richard Chinapoo, who also played against Wright in the old MISL days. "Now, he paces himself. He lets the ball do the work, he uses the people around him very well and he turns that speed on when he thinks it's necessary. Yeah, I think he's one of the most complete players in the league."

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