Blast's goal: 2nd pair of back-to-back titles

MISL champ is restocked, but key will be replacing Kelly on field

Pro Soccer

November 04, 2006|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,Sun reporter

Braced by the returning core of a championship team, the Blast begins its quest for a second straight Major Indoor Soccer League title tonight, visiting the expansion Detroit Ignition in Plymouth.

For the third time in four years, the rest of the league will be trying to unseat the Blast, which appears amply stocked to make a serious run at repeating its feat of 2003-04, when it captured back-to-back MISL titles.

Fifteen players return from the 2006 championship team, midfielder Carlos "Chile" Garcia (another member of the champions) has been re-acquired in a trade with Detroit, and goalkeeper Brian Rowland (UMBC), who played two previous seasons in Baltimore, came back in a deal with the Milwaukee Wave.

"People look at us as being able to do a decent job of reassembling with some trades," said president-general manager Kevin Healey. "The one thing is, Danny will be looking to replace Danny."

Danny Kelly, the glue to the defense last season, has decided to retire as a player and coach strictly from the sideline. So, the biggest question mark, if it rates as one, is who will emerge as the primary helpers of veteran defenders Billy Nelson and P.J. Wakefield (both UMBC players), Wendell Regis and Mike Lookingland.

"I see us as a work in progress," Kelly said. "We had a good training camp, but ultimately you have to do it on the field. We'll try to play good team defense and be better on a consistent basis."

A coach will still be in the middle of the action to provide up-close leadership. Midfielder David Bascome - in his 16th MISL campaign - was named Kelly's assistant last month.

"It is very important to be patient with ourselves," Bascome said. "Everybody is going to be coming after us, and the young defenders are going to take some time. The big difference in the back is that [the direction has] to come from other players [besides Kelly]. We can't look over our shoulders and try to figure out what's going to happen. But we've definitely got the nucleus."

The Blast is loaded with proven scorers. Adauto Neto was second in the league last season with 58 points, and Giuliano Celenza (UMBC) was fifth with 46 and led the MISL with 38 goals and nine power-play goals.

Midfielders Carlos Garcia and Robbie Aristodemo are major offensive threats, and Denison Cabral, who is coming back from a knee injury, is the franchise's all-time leading scorer.

Kelly said his team is neither the fastest nor slowest in the league.

"Our speed is pretty good," he said. "We've got some guys who can run, and when we're healthy, we can create well."

The team also has the look of one with a good blend of experience (nine members with at least five league seasons) and youth (five rookies recently signed out of camp) and "has depth in a lot of places," Healey said.

In the back will be Sagu, who started 24 of the 30 regular-season games and had the second-best goals against average in the league (5.02) and Rowland, who was 4-2 in six games with the Wave.

Neto has been bothered by a shin injury, and Machel Millwood (Towson) did not make the trip to Detroit because of a knee problem. When they recover, the offense will be at full strength.

"I have confidence in these guys," Kelly said. "But other teams are improved, and everybody is going to come at us with their `A' game, trying to knock us off."

"We've built a lot of character over the years," Bascome said. "But you can't rely on that now. Nobody is going to give us anything."

kent.baker@baltsun.com

Blast roster

No. Name Pos. Ht. Wt. Yrs

1 Sagu G 6-0 175 5

2 Billy Nelson D 5-11 185 6

4 Giuliano Celenza F 5-6 160 7

5 Denison Cabral F 5-4 154 10

6 Steve Fell M 5-9 160 2

8 Matt Watson D 6-0 190 1

11 Wendell Regis D 5-10 170 11

13 Cristian Neagu D-F 6-0 195 1

14 Lee Tschantret F 5-8 160 16

15 Adauto Neto F 5-10 178 4

16 Patrick Ouckama D 5-10 165 1

17 P.J. Wakefield D 5-10 170 5

19 Carlos Garcia M 5-9 170 3

20 Robbie Aristodemo M 5-6 140 5

22 Jonathan Steele M 6-0 170 3

23 Machel Millwood F 6-1 196 3

24 Mike Lookingland D 6-2 182 2

25 Graham Munro D 6-0 175 1

27 Brian Rowland G 5-11 175 4

28 Gordon Chin M-F 5-5 145 1

*40 David Bascome M 5-11 164 16*-player-assistant coach

Coach-Danny Kelly

Blast schedule

NOVEMBER

4-at Detroit, 7:35 p.m.; 11-Chicago, 7:35 p.m.; 17-Detroit, 7:35 p.m.

DECEMBER

1-at Milwaukee, 8 p.m.; 2-Milwaukee, 7:35 p.m.; 9-California, 7:35 p.m; 14-at California, 10 p.m.; 16-at Detroit, 7:35 p.m.; 30-at Chicago, 2 p.m.

JANUARY

6-Detroit, 7:35 p.m.; 11-at California, 10 p.m.; 14-at Philadelphia, 4:05 p.m.; 19-Milwaukee, 7:35 p.m.; 20-California, 7:35 p.m.; 26-Chicago, 7:35 p.m.; 27-Detroit, 7:35 p.m.

FEBRUARY

2-Philadelphia, 7:35 p.m.; 3-at Philadelphia, 7:05 p.m.; 17-Milwaukee, 7:35 p.m.; 18-at Milwaukee, 2 p.m.; 24-at Chicago, 2 p.m.

MARCH

2-Philadelphia, 7:35 p.m.; 3-California, 7:35 p.m.; 11-at California, 8 p.m.; 16-at Detroit, 7:35 p.m.; 18-at Milwaukee, 2 p.m.; 23-Chicago, 7:35 p.m.; 24-at Philadelphia, 7:05 p.m.; 30-Philadelphia, 7:35 p.m.; 31-at Chicago, 2 p.m.

Tonight's game

Matchup -- Blast (0-0) at Detroit (0-0)

Site -- Compuware Sports Arena, Plymouth, Mich.

Time -- 7:35 p.m.

Radio -- WCBM (680 AM)

Last year's series -- Did not play

Outlook -- Detroit officials anticipate a standing-room-only crowd for the team's Major Indoor Soccer League debut and the Blast's season opener. The Ignition is expected to compete immediately with a mixture of talent from the expansion draft and young players. Sanaldo, one of the heroes of the Blast's march to the 2006 league title, might start in goal for Detroit, which also has Carlos Farias, the MISL assist leader last season. The Blast will be without another postseason standout, F Machel Millwood (sprained knee).

Kent Baker

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