Young Blast learning on the run

Pro Soccer

February 02, 2007|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,Sun reporter

If anything positive emerged from the rash of injuries that struck the Blast earlier this season, it was the time accorded the team's younger players on the field.

As a crucial stretch begins, the experience they gained will be invaluable with the defending Major Indoor Soccer League champion striving to put together a streak that will carry it into the playoff picture.

And now that the roster is refilling, look for the youth movement to be just as conspicuous because the players merit the time.

"I think our young guys have done pretty well," coach Danny Kelly said. "Matt Watson plays a regular shift and has earned his position. He was in before we had the injuries. Mike Lookingland has been our most consistent young player, and he's basically a rookie. And Jonathan Steele has a ton of potential. All he has to do is work to bring it out."

Watson and Steele, from England and Northern Ireland, respectively, are two of the Blast's fastest players. They think attack. Lookingland, the only graduate from Bucknell to make it in professional soccer, is steady and intelligent and rarely makes a mistake.

"I think I received more playing time than if everyone was fit," said Watson, who recently turned 22. "I got a chance to play straight on and I've improved. Everyone wants to be in the action."

"Getting this experience helped a lot," said Lookingland, 23. "I've gotten even more exposure by being on power-play units. It helps you mature quicker."

Steele is in his third year in the league and second with the Blast and had played in 26 games before this season. But he is just 20.

"I felt I could have played anyway [without the injuries]," he said. "So, I don't think it's helped me a lot. But I still don't use the boards and I'm in my third season. I don't have a clue about them, really. On certain possessions, I've been told I should use the boards. I'm still learning every day."

Adjusting to the intracacies of the boards, the angles and caroms, is the trickiest part of moving from outdoor soccer to indoor. And with half as many teammates on a more confined field, there is less margin for individual errors. An opposing goal can happen in an instant in the revved-up indoor game.

"I can run with the ball and get back quickly," Watson said. "That's definitely my biggest advantage. I like to go forward, but you have to watch for the tricks of the boards. A lot of teams are looking to take advantage of you because you're a rookie."

Steele, who played with Watson in England and Ireland and is his roommate, also likes moving forward. "I'm the same as Matty. We both like to create stuff," he said.

"You have more responsibilities indoors," said Lookingland, who played with Real Salt Lake of Major League Soccer before returning closer to home. He was born in Baltimore and now lives in Fallston.

Lookingland scored three times in the Blast's only road win, at California.

"It was my first experience ever scoring indoors and it was [an] unbelievable feeling," he said. "And no one was there to see them."

"These guys are still adapting," Kelly said. "It took me 40 games until I felt real comfortable. They need to get better."

Since the league is expanding by three teams for next season and the Blast roster will be depleted by an expansion draft, development of young players quickly will be important for the future.

In that regard, the injuries may turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

kent.baker@baltsun.com

Tonight's game

Matchup -- Philadelphia KiXX (10-5) at Blast (7-9)

Site -- 1st Mariner Arena

Time -- 7:35

Radio -- 680 AM

Series -- Philadelphia leads 1-0

Outlook -- The current homestand ends against the Major Indoor Soccer League's leader with the Blast seeking to go 3-2. The KiXX are coming off a big win over the second-place Detroit Ignition, a team the Blast lost to last Saturday at the arena. Player-coach Don D'Ambra tops Philadelphia with 41 points, and goalkeeper Peter Pappas has started all 15 games. Machel Millwood has 37 points and Denison Cabral 34 to pace the Blast. Lee Tschantret needs one point to reach 1,000 in his career.

Kent Baker

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