Blast's Millwood does an inside job

Ex-Towson U. star no longer feels like an outsider playing indoors

Pro Soccer

February 17, 2007|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,Sun reporter

At Towson University, Machel Millwood was the real deal, a forward so dominating offensively that soccer coach Frank Olszewski said he "would have scored goals if he was playing on a beach."

With the Blast, Machel (pronounced Michelle) Millwood has been a big steal, a player originally drafted by the now-defunct San Diego Sockers who had no interest in the indoor game nor in living half the year on the West Coast - nearly 3,000 miles away from his Prince George's County home.

Now, at 27, he is becoming a star in the Major Indoor Soccer League, leading the Blast in scoring with 46 points and feeling much more comfortable about performing within the confines of an arena.

After leaving Towson, the native of Trelawny, Jamaica, spent two years exclusively in the A-League outdoors with no intention of ever joining the MISL. Blast general manager Kevin Healey told Sockers officials they had made a "great choice, except he isn't going to play.

"Then, after a couple years Frank gave me a call that [Millwood] was looking to do indoors, so we played it cool. I told Tim [Wittman, the Blast's former coach] and Ed [Hale, the team's owner] that he was an absolute game-breaker outdoors. We maneuvered and got his rights, but we had already put our team together for that season [2004-05]."

Then, destiny intervened. Shortly after the season started, Denison Cabral and Carlos Garcia suffered torn knee ligaments and underwent surgery. Millwood's indoor career began.

"I didn't want to, didn't plan to play indoors, but in the offseasons, there wasn't much to do, so I came in to try out and see if I'd like it," Millwood said. "Kevin was interested in helping me, but it was kind of scary seeing those knee injuries and I really didn't know what was coming."

Said Healey: "Machel was sitting there at halftime when Denison and Carlos went out and I told him to see me after the game. We signed him right then."

After several five-game contracts, Millwood became a permanent member of the team.

Rangy (6 feet 2, 194 pounds), athletic and fast, he has had to undergo a transition period to adjust to the speed of indoor soccer, the boards and the game's more physical nature. In his third year, he has come a long way.

"When Mills is on his game, he can change a game," coach Danny Kelly said. "He has great speed and he can beat guys one-on-one. He's doing a good job of finishing and you really have to be aware of him out there."

Said Healey: "He can run away from people and he's turning into a force. He's getting better at getting balls in the corner and posting up. When he gets his motor running and plays defense, it enhances his ability to score goals."

How Millwood got to Towson is another unusual story. He had 40 scholarship offers after two seasons at Prince George's Community College, including some from big-time college programs. But it was during a Sunday league game that the Tigers won the battle.

"Frank came to the game and it was pouring [cold] rain," Millwood said. "And he stood through the whole game. That kind of motivated me, that he was a guy I could look up to and trust. He went the extra mile and that motivated me."

Said Olszewski: "Sometimes, you do what you gotta do. He was national [junior college] Player of the Year and we kind of stuck with him. He was getting his associate's degree and working part time. He knew he was a blue-collar kind of guy with major league athletic ability. Some of the things he would pull off when he played for us were just phenomenal.

"He's right up there with the best I've ever had. I would have liked to see him never graduate."

Millwood has a scorer's mentality, the one that tells a player the ball is eventually going to land in the back of the net, and is now able to strike with both feet (he was predominantly left-footed).

"I think Tim Wittman liked the way I attacked defenders," he said. "It's up to them to stop me and if they stop me every other time, there's once I'm going to get by them."

He was the hero in both playoff series that led to the league championship last season, beating the Milwaukee Wave and St. Louis Steamers with golden goals.

"Mills is committed to getting better on the defensive side and that will create even more offense for himself," Kelly said. "He's on his way to becoming more of a complete player and can take his game to the next level."

Tonight's game

Matchup -- Milwaukee Wave (11-8) at Blast (9-9)

Site -- 1st Mariner Arena

Time -- 7:35

Radio -- 680 AM

Season series -- Milwaukee leads 2-1

Outlook -- The Wave comes to town on a five-game winning streak that has carried the team within a half game of first place. The Blast has won two in a row, both over league-leading Philadelphia, but hasn't played in two weeks. Adauto Neto, who was kicked in the shin that was operated on last offseason, is extremely doubtful for the game. Milwaukee has signed two veterans recently, F Goran Vasic and G Brett Phillips. The Blast will induct Heinz Wirtz as the ninth member of the team's Hall of Fame.

Kent Baker

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