Walker kicks it up a notch

Blast veteran forward shows he has a lot left

Pro Soccer

February 24, 2007|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,Sun reporter

When Tarik Walker accepted the assistant coach's job with the Blast during the 2005-06 season, it appeared his days on the field had ended.

Slowed by recovery from ankle surgery, he hadn't been able to make the squad, and retirement loomed after a distinguished professional soccer career that had encompassed nine teams, six cities, five leagues and five championships.

But the Washington native refused to believe that he had no more playing time left, persevered through last fall's training camp and two five-game contracts and at age 35 is again a fixture on the playing roster.

Now, the resurgence of the veteran and that of the team are occurring simultaneously - just in time for the push toward the playoffs.

Walker emerged from the background during last weekend's sweep of the Milwaukee Wave that carried the Blast into third place in the Major Indoor Soccer League. In the game at 1st Mariner Arena, he snuffed out a Wave rally with a goal that put the Blast up 10-7 in the waning minutes. Then at Milwaukee, he climaxed a fourth-quarter comeback with a blazing game-winning score with 3:08 remaining.

It was sweet redemption for the forward's decision not to give up playing.

"In camp, he expressed a desire to try to earn a spot," coach Danny Kelly said. "He worked very hard and was very good. He wasn't just handed a contract because of what he's done in the past. He earned it."

Walker said: "That year in coaching got me to realize that I still wanted to play. I thought I could make it because my body felt good. It's good to be able to contribute and make it back."

Walker has a long-standing relationship with Blast president-general manager Kevin Healey, who said "it was a difficult decision" not to sign him the previous season. "When he came back and wanted to try out for this team, I felt we owed him that. He had gotten quicker, and although he wasn't the dominating player he once was, he was a true professional in the way he goes about things."

After a title-winning 1997-98 season in Milwaukee, Walker longed to return to Baltimore (where he played earlier in his professional career) after Healey was named Blast general manager. A trade was arranged, and Walker has been a member of the Blast ever since, climbing to No. 2 on the current edition's all-time scoring chart behind Denison Cabral.

Early on this season, he was a bit player who wasn't always activated for games, but as the injuries mounted and Walker's ankle stood the test of activity well, his role increased.

"I just tried to contribute whenever I could," he said. "Now, I feel my ankle can hold up to anything. That was a major hurdle to get over."

Walker said his year in coaching gave him a different perspective.

"It was a lot of mental soccer," he said. "You think about things you can offer the team that are not physical."

Now in his 12th playing season, Walker "showed the younger guys how to be a professional," Kelly said. "He probably hasn't gotten the time he thinks he deserves, but that hasn't changed his attitude of giving everything he has. I think sitting out makes you realize how much you miss playing."

kent.baker@baltsun.com

Today's game

Matchup -- Blast (11-9) at Chicago Storm (9-10)

Site -- Sears Centre, Hoffman Estates, Ill.

Time -- 2 p.m.

Radio -- 680 AM

Series record -- Blast leads 2-1

Outlook -- The Blast has some injury issues again with Giuliano Celenza (calf) and Adauto Neto (shin) probably out of the game and Robbie Aristodemo (knee) questionable. In addition, Machel Millwood, who had 10 points last week and now has 56 overall, is nursing a hamstring problem. But the team is hot, with four straight wins and six in its past seven games. Chicago has lost two straight to fall into fifth place. Blast G Sagu (9-6 record) still leads the league in save percentage (.746).

Kent Baker

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