Kelly has big shoes to fill - his own

Blast coach relies on leadership `committee'

Pro soccer

November 17, 2006|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,Sun reporter

If there was one burning issue surrounding the Blast this season, it was how Danny Kelly, the coach, was going to replace Danny Kelly, the player.

As a playing coach during the stretch run to the 2005-06 Major Indoor Soccer League title, Kelly remained the glue of the team's defense, the orchestrator on the field. He was a vocal leader who had a knack for directing people into the right places.

Two games into the new season, the answer is so far, so good. No one has taken over Kelly's role individually, but a committee of old hands is sharing the responsibilities.

They'll do it again tonight at 1st Mariner Arena when the Blast entertains the Detroit Ignition six days after the team had a ball in the home opener, an 18-12 victory over the Chicago Storm.

"He [Kelly] is the type that can't be replaced, that kind of leadership and talent," six-year veteran Billy Nelson said. "Everything went through him. So other guys have to pick up the things he did.

"He stresses a lot to me and P.J. [Wakefield] to communicate. I didn't feel I had to do something, but I want to pick it up and be a leader."

"I think the leadership has to come from Billy and Wendell [Regis] and me," said Wakefield, who is in his fifth year. "I try to step up myself and help out everybody, because everything starts in the back. I think we [the defense] have been playing well."

Said Regis, who is in his 11th season: "I think we've been pretty good at getting things organized. It's very important that guys in the back give direction to those in the front to keep good balance. There are only six teams in the league, and when you've played against the others so many times, you know their tendencies. That makes it a lot easier."

The Blast has permitted 20 points in two games, equivalent to 10 goals under the new scoring system. That is expected to be roughly the norm, and Kelly is not at all dissatisfied with his defenders, despite a subpar first half in Detroit that produced a 6-0 deficit.

"We have very good defenders," he said. "And all of them have different qualities. It's just a matter of them getting more familiar. It's leadership by committee and part of their job. P.J. is our captain and he's going to lead. When they [veterans] are on the field, they all need to take over some of that. It's something they have to develop, get better at."

Nelson and Wakefield are former Rookies of the Year, Wakefield and Regis have been MISL All-Stars, and second-year player Mike Lookingland is considered a budding talent on a talented defensive unit.

"It's not always easy," Nelson said. "We have to communicate to the young guys what certain forwards do when they get the ball, where our forwards want it, and we're all not always on the same lines.

"We've had some ups and downs so far. We need to improve on our team defense. If we can get to the point we're only giving up three or four goals a game, we'll be all right."

"I think we've played OK back there," Kelly said. "But we're a work in progress and we need to get better. This early, I wouldn't expect us to be firing on all cylinders.

"I wouldn't say we have to give up a certain amount [of goals] to be effective, but you always want to limit them, because a good defense can frustrate the other team."

Note -- Forward Machel Millwood (knee) is expected to play tonight, for the first time this season. He could have played last week, but was held out as a precaution.

Tonight's game

Matchup -- Detroit Ignition (2-0) at Blast (1-1)

Site -- 1st Mariner Arena

Time -- 7:35

Radio -- 680 AM

Season series -- Detroit leads 1-0

Outlook -- The expansion Ignition is off to a great start, spoiling Philadelphia's home debut last week in overtime, 10-8. Detroit beat the Blast in the season opener at home, 8-6, on a goal by ex-Baltimore F Carlos Farias with 25 seconds left in regulation. Another former teammate, Sanaldo, is expected to be in goal for Detroit. The Blast won its latest game, 18-12, against Chicago after taking an 8-0 lead behind Giuliano Celenza's hat trick.

Kent Baker

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