Blast rookie Carlos Garcia stood outside the team's locker room last night, holding the game ball signed by all of his teammates. He couldn't stop smiling.
The Blast had just beaten the Cleveland Force, 8-3, to move above .500 for the first time this season, and Garcia had scored the team's second goal of the night. It was a goal that put the Force in a 2-0 hole from which it never recovered.
That, said Garcia, was what really mattered.
"If we don't win, my goal means nothing," he said.
But the ball, with all those signatures, said there was a little more to it than that.
Garcia's goal came in his first professional indoor game on his first shift and on his first touch of the ball.
"Once, everyone was a rookie," said Denison Cabral, who scored a shootout goal in the second period. "We all know how it feels. To score on his first touch in his first game as a pro, it makes everyone feel good."
Garcia, 22 and a native of Cali, Colombia, was selected out of William and Mary in the fourth round of the 2002 Major Indoor Soccer League draft. But he did not start the season in a Blast uniform. He practiced every day with the team, but when game time rolled around, he sat in the stands, waiting not only for an opportunity to start, but for the visa that would allow him to play.
"I had a work visa for what I majored in - business - but not for soccer," he explained. "I've been waiting five weeks, but it finally came Wednesday."
At 4:29 of the opening period, P.J. Wakefield (two goals, one assist) stole the ball from Cleveland's Nick Corneli and made a quick feed to Giuliano Celenza (two goals) behind the Cleveland defense. Celenza wasted little time turning for an shot that beat goalie Jim Larkin for a 1-0 Baltimore lead with 4:29 gone.
Just 37 seconds later, Garcia made it 2-0.
"I've never started so well," Garcia said. "In my first game in anything, I always start on the wrong foot. But the guys talked to me tonight before the game and advised me to calm down."
Cleveland coach Andy Schmetzer was leaving his team's locker room after the game when he saw Garcia with the ball.
"Your first goal?" Schmetzer asked.
"My first shift," said Garcia, nodding.
"Congratulations," he said.
Blast 2 2 2 2 - 8
Cleveland 0 1 1 1 - 3
First quarter: 1. Blast, Celenza (Wakefield), 4:29; 2. Blast, Garcia (Farias), 5:06. Penalties: Blast, Cabral (kicking), 15:00. Second quarter: 3. Cleveland, Edgerton (PP), (Karic), 1:34; 4. Blast, Wakefield (UA), 11:18; 5. Blast, Cabral (shootout), 11:59. Penalties: Cleveland, Dore (elbowing), 3:50; Cleveland, Pizzolitto (holding), 11:54. Third quarter: 6. Cleveland, Marinaro (UA), 1:51; 7. Blast Farias (Cabral), 14:31; 8. Blast, Calenza (Walker), 14:48. Penalties: None. Fourth quarter: 9.Cleveland, Neto (UA), 8:02; 10. Blast, Nelson (Farias), 9:55; 11. Blast, Wakefield (Kelly), 13:48. Penalties: None. Shots on goal: Cleveland, 3-4-6-7-20; Blast, 4-7-6-6-23. Power-play opportunities: Cleveland 1-for-1; Blast 0-for-1. Shootout opportunities: Cleveland 0-for-0; Blast 1-for-1. Goalkeepers: Cleveland, Larkin, 10 saves, Ball, 1 save; Blast, Hileman, 12 saves. A: 4,086.