Regis familiar, welcome addition to Blast

With time running short in playoff chase, defender provides a lift in return

Pro Soccer

March 18, 2005|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

At the end of last season, Blast defender Wendell Regis had knee surgery and then got caught in the team's salary cap restraints.

The result was Regis, an All-Star defender, found himself in Cleveland playing for the Force.

But when the Blast played in Cleveland last Friday and when it plays in Philadelphia tomorrow night, Regis was and will be playing for the Blast.

Regis returned in late February, when the Blast picked him up off waivers. Since then, he has been a strong addition. Playing well on defense, he also has contributed a game-winning goal against Chicago, an assist in the team's win over Philadelphia on March 1 and a goal against Cleveland in the Blast's 7-5 loss there Friday.

The Blast needs strong, healthy bodies as it continues to make its way through a season with an unusually high number of injuries that have sidelined key players. The team is in sixth place, 1 1/2 games out of the fourth and final playoff spot.

"We've got to win every game -- almost, realistically -- to get in the playoffs," said Blast coach Tim Wittman, whose team has 10 games left in the regular season.

So when the opportunity came to pick up Regis, Blast general manager Kevin Healey didn't hesitate.

"The timing was good," Healey said. "We don't know what the situation was in Cleveland and we don't really care. We were hurting physically. He knows our system and we know him and it works for us."

While with Cleveland, Regis started slowly, but then had a good 10-game stretch for the Force and the team was happy with him. In 17 games, he had 34 blocked shots, three goals and one assist.

But Regis, 34, and playing for a younger Cleveland team, never felt fully at ease.

"My personality just didn't seem to be the right fit," he said after practice this week. "They were younger. They needed someone a little more vocal to step in and take more control. That's not me. Here in Baltimore, there are a lot of veterans and I can fit in and just play."

In the end, the folding of Major Indoor Soccer League teams in San Diego and Monterrey, Mexico, led to the end of the Cleveland experience for Regis. The Force picked up several skilled players in the dispersal draft from those teams' rosters and suddenly found itself facing salary cap issues of its own.

"We appreciate the time we had with Wendell," Force president and general manager Paul Garofolo said when he placed Regis on waivers.

"However, with the acquisition of Genoni Martinez and Matt Johnson and the development of Ryan Hall, it simply became a numbers game with our roster."

Healey said it is almost always the mid-range-salary players who get hurt by such restraints. But in Baltimore, the numbers game had changed.

Once tight, salary money had become available because of season-ending knee injuries to forward Carlos Garcia and defender Adilson De Lima, whose salaries no longer count against the cap.

"Wendell is doing very well right now," said Wittman, who has the veteran defender playing regular shifts. "Maybe time away has made him think about how much he liked playing here and, I think, his leg feels better."

Last season, Regis played with a painful knee that eventually led to a decrease in playing time. But surgery in May did its job and the knee is perfectly strong.

Wittman regards Regis' goals and assist since his return as bonuses.

What has impressed him most is the way Regis has been reading game situations and playing man-to-man defense.

"My plan is to continue to play him on regular shifts," Wittman said.

"It's a situation he has to take advantage of and, so far, that's what he's been doing."

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