Injuries, suspensions have Blast doing more with less

Walker waits on appeal, says he threw no punches

MISL notebook

Soccer

March 14, 2002|By Glenn P. Graham | Glenn P. Graham,SUN STAFF

Because of injuries, suspensions and more injuries, this is where it stands for the struggling Blast: Only 13 players are likely to be available for Sunday's game in Kansas City.

"It's crazy. We've lost seven of our top 16 guys. But there's nothing you can do about it. It is what it is," said Kevin Healey, Blast coach and general manager.

Two of the team's recent additions - midfielder Henry Gutierrez and forward Lester Felician - were the latest to go down, both in Saturday's 20-6 loss in Cleveland, the Blast's seventh in eight games. Gutierrez will miss at least three weeks with a cracked foot bone. Felician, who suffered an apparent seizure in the first half, visited a cardiologist Tuesday and his status remains uncertain.

Goalkeeper Scott Hileman, forward Tarik Walker and defender Dewan Bader still will be serving suspension time from the March 3 brawl in Harrisburg. Defender Jason Dieter remains out with knee problems and could be lost for the season.

"I told our team at the beginning of practice this week not to feel sorry for ourselves, and just work hard," said Healey. "So we'll keep working on the parts of the game we need to, and we'll put a talented group on the field, organize and go from there."

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Midfielder Danny Kelly, bothered most of the season by a foot stress fracture, began practicing and is expected to play the next weekend. And Healey said he plans to sign defender Ronnie Simmons, who played in Baltimore six years before being released last fall. He should be in uniform by next week.

The Blast (14-19) has seen its lead for the fourth and final playoff spot in next month's Major Indoor Soccer League playoffs dwindle to 3 1/2 games, with fifth-place Cleveland (11-23) surging.

Coming together as a team with one month left until playoffs is Blast midfielder Paul Wright's primary concern.

"Team chemistry - I don't think we have it right now," he said. "Someone goes down, suspensions happen, you're making trades, and new guys you don't really know are coming in. The only thing you can control is your effort on the field."

Walker appeal drifts

Walker insists he threw no punches in the Blast-Heat melee in Harrisburg, but he still got socked with a fine and suspension. Now, he's frustrated by the league's unclear appeals process.

When his unexpected punishment was handed down last Thursday, he faxed an appeal and even left a phone message with league commissioner Steve Ryan on the same night to voice his concern. But he said it wasn't until Monday afternoon that he was reached by the league, which asked him to complete a written appeal by noon Tuesday.

A combined seven players from both teams were either suspended, fined or both, along with Heat coach Richard Chinapoo.

The league, which did not have videotape of the incident, had to rely on written statements from the supposed players involved, referees and coaches. Walker, whose fine was at least $500 and perhaps double that, was not asked to give an account.

"The thing that upsets me now is that I got fined as one of the major players in this whole deal. Don't fine me without giving me a say in the matter and then afterwards, when I appeal, don't give me any word until a week and a half later," said Walker.

Walker is hoping to find backing from some of the Harrisburg players to help his appeal.

Brian Fleming, the league's vice president of soccer operations, said commissioner Ryan is reviewing Walker's appeal. If the appeal is denied, Walker can ask for arbitration.

"I really can't comment other than to say that the suspensions and fines were just based on what we considered was hard evidence from people [who] had something to do with the altercation," said Fleming.

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