Rowland's vision with Blast looking up

Young backup goaltender says confidence is growing

December 10, 2004|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

As a child, Brian Rowland had vision. He knew when he was 13 he wanted to earn his living as a professional soccer player. It was that knowledge that led him to major in economics at UMBC. Economics, he explained, is a field that can be used in job hunting everywhere soccer is played.

"It's almost like a universal degree," Rowland said. "Whether you're in Europe, here or Canada, you can still work with stocks and bonds and other finances."

And it is on-field vision that Rowland, who is 5 feet 11 and 175 pounds, considers of prime importance this season as he attempts to establish himself as a goaltender with the Blast in the Major Indoor Soccer League.

This is a season of opportunity for Rowland, 23, who worked as Scott Hileman's backup last season. It was, to say the least, a position of inactivity. Playing backup to one of the league's most established workhorses, Rowland played a total of 10 minutes and 26 seconds in two games.

"I didn't do much," he said. "I had never had a year when I felt I hadn't contributed. But I did learn. I've been working on my vision and, within the last couple months, I'm seeing the field better. It's improved dramatically."

This season, he already has played 175 minutes and 48 seconds and surpassed the number of games played by one. Tonight against the Milwaukee Wave at 1st Mariner Arena, he will start for the fourth time, looking for his second victory.

Last Saturday in Cleveland, Rowland made 21 saves on 28 shots and got his first win, an 11-7 decision over the Force that ended the Blast's five-game losing streak.

The Blast (3-6) has struggled almost from the beginning of the season as serious knee injuries have sidelined leading scorer Denison Cabral, Carlos Garcia, Danny Kelly and Adilson De Lima.

"It would probably be quicker to ask me who's healthy," coach Tim Wittman said. "But I don't think we're behind the 8-ball. I just have to come up with a solution. I will try to do that and, in order to do that, every one of my players has to have the same mentality. Each one has to believe he can make a difference."

Among those Wittman needs to step up are his goaltenders. He has a proven star in Sagu, who is scheduled to start tomorrow night in Chicago, and he has Rowland, who is just beginning his career.

What Wittman would like in the long run is a strong rotation, but in the short term, he just wants a goalie who can win - now.

Rowland understands. A team with major injuries needs a catalyst.

"It is up to everyone to make a difference," he said. "Whether that means me making 30 saves or someone scoring five or six goals."

In practices, Rowland has proved to be proficient. He has a strong arm, which will become more and more of a weapon as his field vision gets stronger. And he is capable of making good saves.

"He has good technique," Wittman said. "He has the technical skills. Now he needs game experience to get to the next level. He has to learn where the other players are. He has to have the confidence to control the game when the ball is in his hands or on his foot. And vision on the field is very important in terms of all those things."

Wittman is hoping the vision comes quickly and brings confidence, which in turn should make his goalie more willing to be vocal with the field players.

The last time Milwaukee was in town, the Wave got a fine effort from goalie Nick Vorberg. Afterward, what made Wave coach Keith Tozer most happy about the 6-1 win was Vorberg's vocal leadership.

"We haven't had that from our goaltender since Victor [Nogueira] left," said Tozer, referring to the legendary goalie now playing in San Diego.

"It's hard to get," Wittman said. "And it's not necessarily leadership. But it is control of the game."

Wittman is searching for a hot goalie. Rowland played well in Cleveland, so he gets this start against Milwaukee.

"It's pressure, but it isn't," Rowland said. "I'm completely confident in my ability to help this team win. Right now, we need to get on a roll and, obviously, I want to win and keep playing. But, at the same time, I have to understand you can have a good game and not win."

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