Blast's Cabral fine-tunes goals after his knees pass first test

Pro soccer

November 11, 2006|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,Sun reporter

A week ago, Denison Cabral's only goal was to get through the Blast opener in Detroit without any complications. This week, he aspires to do more than that.

After nearly 11 months without a formal game following his second major knee surgery, the team's all-time leading point scorer hopes to have more of an impact when the Blast begins its home schedule tonight at 1st Mariner Arena against the Chicago Storm.

"I'm excited," said Cabral, who started playing professional soccer in his native Brazil at the age of 15. "The last two seasons, I've only really played any real time in 12 games. Before that, I didn't miss a game, and for me to sit out that long was tough.

"Even last week, I was telling some teammates, I felt like I was a rookie again. I wasn't really nervous, but I had a little bit of the butterflies. When I got on the field, the pace of the game was much faster than I expected. I didn't play my best game because I had to make an adjustment. It was surprising to be able to finish."

Now 32, Cabral has undergone surgery on the anterior cruciate ligaments in both knees since he was first injured two years ago tomorrow. The operations marked the fourth and fifth times procedures had been performed on his knees, although the first three were simply to clean joints.

After the first major operation (right knee), he missed nearly five months before he could practice. This year (left knee), he was totally inactive for seven months.

"Everything was all right in the game. The knee feels good," said Cabral, a five-time Major Indoor Soccer League All-Star and Most Valuable Player of the 2003 playoff finals.

He has adjusted well before. When he came to the United States in 1994, he didn't understand English (Brazil's native language is Portuguese) or Spanish. Now he handles both. And the eating habits of Americans were something he also found hard to comprehend.

"I had to learn two different languages because there was a bit of a problem with communication at first," he said. "And the food was tough. I grew up with every day having breakfast, lunch, a snack and dinner, Mom cooking every day and you were always eating with the family. There was no fast food. It was just the pace of a different culture. You tell people back home about the food, and they don't understand."

But he has eaten up the soccer, first with the Washington Warthogs, then with the Baltimore Bays of the United States Indoor Soccer League. Since his association with the Blast began in 1997-98, Cabral, a defender in Brazil, has accumulated 358 goals and 720 points.

"I wasn't planning on being on offense," he said. "It just worked out that way. I've been very fortunate to be in positions to do my job and play with and against great players. That made me better."

Cabral is one of many Blast players who are extremely active with the community. He is the head coach at St. Mary's High in Anne Arundel County and works extensively with young players elsewhere in the offseason.

"Baltimore is a serious soccer community," he said. "Everybody in the league knows it's very special to play for the Blast because of the organization, the fans, the titles, everything. It's really intense.

"I just want to keep playing until I'm not having fun. I don't want to be forced to stop."

Tonight's game

Matchup -- Chicago Storm (1-0) at Blast (0-1)

Site -- 1st Mariner Arena

Time -- 7:35

Radio -- 680 AM

Last year's series -- Blast won, 4-2

Outlook -- A sellout crowd is anticipated as the defending Major Indoor Soccer League champion begins its home season. The Blast opened last Saturday with an 8-6 loss at the expansion Detroit Ignition, while Chicago edged the Milwaukee Wave, 9-8. The Storm's Jim Larkin was MISL Goalkeeper of the Week, and its roster includes ex-Blast F Chris Handsor. The first 3,000 fans will receive a championship pin and a coffee mug.

Kent Baker

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