Sagu's fire helps bond Blast

MISL's Goalkeeper of Month award testament to job he's doing

Pro Soccer

February 03, 2006|By GARY LAMBRECHT | GARY LAMBRECHT,SUN REPORTER

His teammates see a mild-mannered guy who turns into a vocal, passionate leader the minute he takes his position in front of the net.

Midway through the Major Indoor Soccer League season, Blast second-year goalie Sagu has emerged as a take-charge player at perhaps the game's most crucial spot.

He is finally healthy. His confidence is growing as he elevates his game. And, although he has gotten his edgier, frenetic side more under control over the years, he still throws his weight and his words around in the heat of competition.

Take Saturday's 12-7 rout of visiting St. Louis. Sagu spent three quarters stuffing the Steamers as the Blast built a comfortable lead. Then, at the start of the fourth quarter, after Blast defender Danny Kelly was called for a questionable pushing foul, Sagu got into a verbal confrontation with an official and was ejected, forcing him to sit out the next day's 11-5 loss in Milwaukee.

As the third-place Blast (9-6) begins the second half of the season, its goalie questions have been answered. The job belongs to Sagu, a native of Sao Paulo, Brazil, who earlier this week was named the MISL Goalkeeper of the Month after going 4-0 in January. His 20-save effort in a 9-5 victory over visiting Chicago on Jan. 21 solidified the award.

"[Sagu] has kept us in a lot of games. He's made the saves he should and he's made a lot of saves he shouldn't," Kelly said. "It's a calming influence on the team. He's very calm and mellow off the field. On the field, he's a fiery guy. I like that part about him."

"I love watching his work ethic and his drive and passion," added midfielder David Bascome. "He's fearless. If I'm a [opposing] forward, I don't want to be in that box around him. If he tells me to get out of the box, I'm getting out or he might punch me in the back of the head."

"I change my personality when I come onto the soccer field. I'm very emotional," said Sagu, whose .722 save percentage in 11 games leaves him just behind league-leader Nick Vorberg (.725) of Milwaukee. " I don't come here to joke [around]. Sometimes, you need to use intimidation."

In only his fourth indoor season, Sagu, 32, who played for the Dallas Sidekicks before joining the Blast before the start of last season, feels as if he's arrived with the Baltimore team.

For starters, the torn groin muscles that were repaired nearly two years ago have healed and no longer limit his mobility. He said he has grown smarter by not exposing himself to injuries with the reckless style he fashioned while playing at the elite club level in Brazil and in the outdoor game with Dallas after coming to America at age 25.

His past ailments include several broken ribs and lacerations on the chin and above the right eye that required stitches.

He also had to adjust to the pace of the indoor game, which is marked by shots that come in bunches, due to caroms off the boards and follow-ups that often occur in traffic on top of the goal.

"It's very much a reflex game," Sagu said. "You put your head down for one second and a guy will score on you. You need to stay on your feet. You don't want to be diving all the time. This game is too fast for that."

Blast coach Tim Wittman is impressed with how much Sagu pushes himself with extra practice work and how comfortable he has become with the rest of the team after last year's injury-marred season when Sagu played in just 21 games for the 15-24 Blast.

"[Sagu] has got this drive in him that's pretty strong, and he won't hesitate to lay someone out in the box. He's aggressive, but he keeps it in check," Wittman said. "We've been playing better when he's been in there [as opposesd to backup goalie Sanaldo], no doubt about it."

gary.lambrecht@baltsun.com

Blast tonight

Matchup -- California Cougars (1-15) @ Blast (9-6)

Time -- 7:35

Radio -- 680 AM

Outlook -- The Blast could not have a more favorable way to begin the second half of its regular season. The night before a visit from the first-place Milwaukee Wave, the Blast should have its way with the expansion, last-place Cougars, who are 0-10 on the road, although they have been more competitive after losing six of their first eight by at least four goals each. Midfielders Ronnie Ekelund (16 points) and Ricardinho (15 points) are California's' leading scorers. Blast forwards Adauto Neto (33 points) and Giuliano Celenza (28) are headed to next week's all-star game, and could be joined this weekend by Machel Millwood, whose injured ankle has been slow to heal.

Gary Lambrecht

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