Coach Wittman gets early break when defender Nelson avoids one

Blast Notebook

Pro Soccer

November 01, 2005|By GARY LAMBRECHT | GARY LAMBRECHT,SUN REPORTER

Blast coach Tim Wittman heard the sound and held his breath. During Thursday's scrimmage at Philadelphia, which ended in a 9-9 tie, there was veteran defender Billy Nelson going after a loose ball, then crashing into a KiXX player, then falling to the turf with a leg injury that looked serious.

Just what the Blast needed, a year after injuries did much to torpedo their season.

But a fortunate thing happened. Nelson got up. Later, X-rays and a magnetic resonance imaging test revealed he had suffered a bad bruise, but no fracture. Nelson, a five-year veteran, is expected to rejoin the team at practice shortly and be ready for the season opener a week from Friday against the visiting, expansion California Cougars.

Not that Wittman was altogether pleased with the picture.

"[Nelson] has got to be smarter and I've told him that," Wittman said. "He's been around long enough, and he's got a [roster] spot. He can't go after a 50-50 ball, crashing his leg like that. It's a scrimmage.

"I like his tenacity and his heart. I just wish he'd gotten hit in the head because I would know he's all right."

"I thought [Nelson] broke his leg," said defender P.J. Wakefield. "I was thinking, `here we go again and [the season] hasn't even started.' I was waiting for that scream [from Nelson], but it never came."

Quick cutdown

The Blast began training camp on Oct. 24 without many jobs realistically available. Twenty-eight players were in camp, and the team had to trim its roster to 20 before the season opener. Teams are allowed to activate up to 16 players for games.

After a week, only 21 players remain in camp. The Blast released forwards Marcos Chantel and Nino Marcantonio, midfielders Casey Stevens, Kevon Harris and Derek McElligot (a rookie out of UMBC) and defenders Jason Woods and G.R. Cannon.

Millwood is back

Second-year forward Machel Millwood felt great coming into camp after missing much of the second half of last season. He had surgery for a hernia March 30.

By scoring three goals in last week's scrimmage in Philadelphia, Millwood gained another dose of confidence.

"It's better to be playing than doing rehab. It's a relief doing what you like to do, doing it on the field and enjoying it," Millwood said.

Millwood, who played at Towson University and for the under-17 Jamaican national team, had 12 goals and six assists as a rookie last year and scored at least one point in 12 of the 17 games in which he played.

Millwood went through a torturous rehab assignment, mainly because he was confined to resting for eight weeks after his surgery and could not begin drills involving contact for three months. He played in 10 games last summer for the Atlanta Silverbacks of the A-League.

"I expect [Millwood] to have a big year," Wittman said. "He's got everything there physically to do it. Mentally, he knows what the league is about now and he knows what he has to do. He's worked hard. I love his attitude."

Wittman `happy'

With such a short training camp - 18 days - Wittman was concerned about how well-conditioned his players would be upon reporting. About one-third of the team took part in informal workouts for several weeks at Du Burns Arena leading up to camp.

Yesterday, as the squad was heading over to Calvert Hall to take part in a two-mile run on the school's track, Wittman sounded pretty satisfied.

"We're not done yet, but I'm happy. People are working," said Wittman, who wanted his players to complete the run in 12 minutes or less. "I don't hear anybody complaining. Nobody is taking their time."

gary.lambrecht@baltsun.com

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