Blast gets more than expected with Neto

Forward's `vision' bonus for Wittman

Pro soccer

November 19, 2005|By GARY LAMBRECHT | GARY LAMBRECHT,SUN REPORTER

Blast coach Tim Wittman knew what his team was getting when it acquired forward Adauto Neto.

Having watched Neto as a member of the now-defunct Cleveland Force for two years, Wittman could see the obvious. Here was a budding star who routinely could beat a defender one-on-one, keep defenses off balance with his passing and ability to hold the ball and drive goalies nuts with his accurate and unpredictable shooting.

But after working with Neto for two weeks in the preseason, then watching him dominate the California Cougars with a five-point debut effort in last week's season opener, Wittman thinks the Blast has added even more.

"I think [Neto] is a little bit better than I thought he was. It's his vision," Wittman said. "He sees things happen before they happen. He puts himself in good positions. He's creating something all of the time. I didn't think he would be this much ahead of the game."

It probably has something to do with his background. Like many gifted athletes from Brazil, Neto, 24, has rarely known a day without soccer in his life. He recalled, as a boy in the town of Itabuna and the oldest of four children, honing his skills daily and collecting sores on his bare feet while playing the game on a gravel road near his house.

By the time he visited the United States in 1998, as a guest player on the under-19 national team, Neto was on his way to a pro career. He prepared for that by becoming a three-time, NAIA All-American at the University of Mobile, then broke into the Major Indoor Soccer League in Cleveland with two injury-marred, yet dynamic years.

And, thanks to the demise of the Force, for which Neto had 43 goals and 19 assists in 50 games over two seasons, one of the league's younger scoring weapons is now in Baltimore.

The Blast, which grabbed him as the second overall selection in the September dispersal draft, enjoyed an early return on its investment. In last week's 9-4 rout of California, Neto produced three goals and two assists, then picked up the league's Offensive Player of the Week honor for the third straight week, dating to last season.

"I've never felt so comfortable with a team the way I do here," Neto said. "I don't know if it's because [Wittman] has given me the freedom to do what I like to do. I have a little bit of everything - a little bit of speed, little bit of passing, little bit of dribbling. I'm not a great player. I consider myself a hard-working player."

Such Blast teammates as forward Carlos Garcia see emerging greatness meeting work ethic in Neto. Garcia loves the way Neto hustles back on defense, which suggests something more than a player simply looking for his shot.

"[Neto] doesn't think he's [legendary Diego] Maradona, but he knows he plays the game well. There's no ego with him," Garcia said.

"He's strong holding the ball, and he's deceptively fast. He can run by people. He makes the game look easy. We could appreciate from the outside what he could do. It's very good to have him here."

gary.lambrecht@baltsun.com

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