Intent on making changes on both offense and defense after finishing in last place last season, the Blast brought in such players as Adauto Neto and Robbie Aristodemo for scoring Punch, but found defensive help in an unusual place - on offense.
P.J. Wakefield was one of the Blast's top offensive threats during his first three years with the team. But team officials loved his versatility and thought he would have little trouble switching to the back, and he's helped the team's defense become much stingier.
That defense will get another test tonight at 7:35 against the Philadelphia KiXX at 1st Mariner Arena.
Wakefield, who was named the Major Indoor Soccer League's Defensive Player of the Week on Dec. 19, scored 62 points in his rookie year (2002-03) and added 30 points the next season and 39 last year.
But he also showed plenty of skill on defense, even being picked as the MISL's Defensive Player of the Week when he blocked two shots and cleared two off the goal line in a 7-4 win over Philadelphia on Dec. 26 last year. That's why the change didn't faze Wakefield.
He knew coach Tim Wittman and the team had been thinking about it, and Wakefield even played defense a few times last year when the Blast was dealing with a myriad of injuries.
"It was no surprise. I like it back there," Wakefield said. "Playing in the back, I can see the whole field. I have my chances to go forward and I take them."
Wakefield said moving back hasn't been a huge adjustment. And having a defender who's also an offensive threat gives the Blast more of the punch Wittman wants.
Offense hasn't caused many problems so far as the Blast ranks second in the league with 47 goals. And Wakefield has helped, he's tied for fifth on the team with seven points through the first seven games.
But the defense also has gotten stronger. The Blast ranked last in the league with 238 goals allowed last year, an average of 6.1 per game. It has given up 36 goals in seven games this season, ranking third in the league and dropping that average to 5.1 per game.
"I think it's been easy for him, at least he's made it look easy," said fellow defender Billy Nelson. "Defensively, he's a great marker and he likes to go forward, which makes him a good offensive threat, as well. He's great to have in the back."
Wittman said Wakefield is starting to control the game from the back. "I just thought the team needed that," the coach said. "I thought we could get the most out of him out of the back right now. I think he can stay with [forwards] and I think he can also abuse them. I think he could become one of the best backs in the league if he continues it."
General manager Kevin Healey and Wittman agree that Wakefield could start at any non-goalie position on the field. That's why they were comfortable making the move.
The Blast made a similar move with Danny Kelly a few years ago, and he's developed into a solid defender. That's another reason team officials didn't think they were taking a big chance with the change.
"It's not really that hard of an adjustment," Wakefield said. "It's a little bit of an adjustment where you don't get to go forward as much. But I like it back there. We had troubles last year, but now I think ... we have a good, solid team back there."