Health Blast's fondest wish

Team hopes injuries thing of past

Pro Soccer

October 24, 2005|By GARY LAMBRECHT | GARY LAMBRECHT,SUN REPORTER

As he counted down the days until he would take the field again for the Blast, veteran forward Giuliano Celenza sounded sure of one thing. There is no way the coming season will be as strange and unlucky as the year he and numerous teammates have put behind them.

A year ago, the Blast, which begins preseason training today at Du Burns Arena, started slowly, got smacked by a rash of injuries and never regained its footing before finishing in last place and missing the Major Indoor Soccer League playoffs. This, after winning the championship twice in a row.

Celenza, who is entering his sixth year with the Blast after leading the team in scoring, felt the team's pain. Throughout the 2004-05 season, he battled ankle and knee problems, but at least he was able to play.

During the season's sixth game, Celenza watched two teammates - forwards Denison Cabral and Carlos Garcia - go down with season-ending knee injuries, one week after rookie defender Adilson De Lima also had bowed out with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. The tone for a 15-24 record had been set.

"One thing went wrong, and it seemed like everything went wrong. We had players in the hospital. We had coaches in the hospital," said Celenza, alluding to ailments that temporarily put coach Tim Wittman and assistant coach Max Thompson out of commission. "Hopefully, all of the injuries and stuff are behind us. We're starting fresh."

Starting with general manager Kevin Healey, people with the Blast see the team as a younger, quicker unit than the one that staggered through last season, when the Blast had trouble stopping opposing offenses in transition. Through the amateur draft and the dispersal draft that resulted when franchises in Cleveland and Kansas City folded, the team acquired some needed youth and athleticism.

The new blood, combined with a core of proven talent that has recaptured its health for now, makes Healey believe Blast fans will see a winning brand of soccer in the revamped MISL.

The six-team league now includes the expansion California Cougars, who visit 1st Mariner Arena for the season opener Nov. 11.

"It was a crazy season as far as the injuries were concerned, but we can't just say that's all it was," Healey said. "If we say injuries were the only problem, we'd be sticking our heads in the sand and not realizing we had some other problems."

After losing goalie Brian Rowland, defender Nevio Pizzolitto and forward Alejandro Moreno to California in the June expansion draft, the Blast set about correcting some problems in last month's dispersal draft.

Among the notable picks in the early rounds were first-round selection Adauto Neto, an All-Rookie team defender in 2004 who has 43 goals and 62 points in 50 career games, and midfielder Robbie Aristodemo, a four-year MISL veteran and former member of the Canadian national team.

The Blast, which will invite about 28 players to camp and can carry up to 20 on its roster, figures it will have a different look if the players can stay out of the hospital.

Cabral is a five-time league All-Star and the leading scorer in franchise history with 709 points. Midfielder David Bascome, entering his 15th season after having minor knee surgery in the offseason, ranks 14th in league history with 997 points. Forward Machel Millwood, who had surgery to repair a hernia and missed the season's final month, scored 12 goals in 17 games.

"We're quicker at a lot of places. There's no replacement for [youthful] legs," Wittman said. "It's going to be a really competitive camp. There's not that many positions out there [that are set]. It's going to be feisty."

Said Cabral: "Missing the season was more painful for me than the injury. It was a long season that really never ended for me. I've been waiting for this for a long time."

gary.lambrecht@baltsun.com

At a glance

Training camp

Begins today. The Blast will train Monday through Friday at 10 a.m. at Du Burns Arena; practices are open to the public. There will be an intrasquad scrimmage at Du Burns at 6 p.m. Saturday. Tickets will be available at the door for $5. For information, call 410-396-4202.

Regular-season opener

Nov. 11 at 1st Mariner Arena, 7:35 p.m., vs. expansion California Cougars.

Regular-season tickets

For season tickets and mini-plans, call the Blast office at 410-73-BLAST. For single-game tickets, visit the 1st Mariner Arena box office, call Ticketmaster at 410-547-SEAT or go to ticketmaster.com

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.