Kelly-led Blast back to work

Players accept teammate as coach, stay focused on goals amid Wittman woes

Pro Soccer

March 22, 2006|By JEFF SEIDEL | JEFF SEIDEL,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

There wasn't much different when the Blast returned to practice yesterday - except the coach.

Danny Kelly stepped in for his first day as interim player/coach after the Major Indoor Soccer League suspended Tim Wittman following an incident in last Saturday's loss at California. As far as most were concerned, it was just business as usual.

"Practice went smoothly," midfielder Lee Tschantret said. "We just kind of picked up where we left off. Danny has played for years, and he's a student of the game. He knows what he's doing."

Kelly will coach for the rest of the season and the playoffs. The Blast (15-10) recently clinched a playoff spot and is in third place, two games behind Milwaukee with five games left. Since the team has fared well for most of this season and is filled with veterans, Kelly doesn't plan to change much.

"It's going to be a little adjustment period of me just wrapping my head around the whole thing," Kelly said. "We're going to work hard and we're going to stick together and we're going to move forward. We're looking to win games, and that's the bottom line."

The team didn't practice Monday after returning from California. The players met with team operator Ed Hale in his business office at 10 a.m. yesterday before going to practice an hour later. Hale told them that what happened with Wittman was unfortunate but now they needed to move on.

Kelly then spoke briefly before practice began.

"They know who I am and what I'm about," Kelly said. "Most of the guys have been here for a while and those who haven't have seen me for long enough to know what I'm about."

Kelly has been a defender the past few seasons and works much like a coach on the field during games, and he said that won't change. He's just got some extra responsibilities now.

General manager Kevin Healey said that the organization is focused on not letting the team be disrupted by this.

"We do have a new coach, but it's the same organization," Healey said. "It's the same players. I'm not looking for us to make any excuses, and we're geared toward winning championships."

Meanwhile, Wittman's situation remained somewhat up in the air.

Stockton, Calif., police officials said that Wittman must appear in Stockton Superior Court on April 10 to answer the misdemeanor charge of battery that he was cited for after the incident Saturday. He admitted having physical contact with senior game referee Terry Mashino and penalty box attendant Rob Planette at game's end.

Wittman was arrested and then released on his own recognizance at the site. The judge will have a variety of options when Wittman comes to court, including a fine and/or jail time. The case also could be continued, meaning another trip to the court.

MISL officials said again yesterday that Wittman could be facing more punishments, possibly coming as early as tomorrow. In addition, the U.S. Soccer Federation has the right to step in and ask for additional sanctions.

Wittman won't be allowed to speak to players at the practice site or at 1st Mariner Arena. But they can talk at any other place, and Healey said the team certainly doesn't want to block Wittman from speaking to players as they know he's developed relationships with many.

"I miss Timmy because he's a very good friend of mine," Blast goalie Sagu said. "[But] I think the team is going to be happy with Danny Kelly. [He] is a good player, a good person."

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