Professional indoor soccer returns to Baltimore this fall with a new league name, a scaled-down schedule and a long-term eye on team expansion and growth.
The old Major Indoor Soccer League is history. The latest entity to include the Blast is the National Indoor Soccer League, which will launch in mid-November with five teams, including four members of last season's MISL, and an 18-game regular season, a reduction of 12 games.
In effect, this is a transition season for the NISL and the recently formed Extreme Soccer League, which claimed old MISL members Milwaukee, Detroit, Chicago and New Jersey. Rejoining Baltimore in the NISL are the Philadelphia KiXX, Orlando Sharks and La Raza de Monterrey, which lost to the Blast in the MISL championship game in April.
Entering for the first time is the Rockford (Ill.) Rampage, the American Indoor Soccer League titlist last season. Rockford is about 90 miles northwest of Chicago.
"This was a very strange offseason, particularly different and worse than in the past," Blast owner Ed Hale said yesterday. "We tried to get the league name [MISL] from previous owners, but it didn't happen. I'm personally disappointed that we don't have Milwaukee in with us, but they chose to go out with the other guys. Also New Jersey.
"But we're hopeful of getting Guadalajara and/or Mexico City, and we think there is going to be expansion in the Midwest. And we expect our league will be the best there is in terms of talent."
The new configuration will have no commissioner initially and will focus on cooperation among the teams, often an elusive thing in indoor soccer. Rancor among the members was a stumbling block in the old MISL.
"We need to be a leader" in cooperation, said Blast general manager Kevin Healey, who noted that the Blast and KiXX combined for six of the last seven MISL titles and finished 1-2 in attendance for four consecutive seasons. "We have to share information among us and do the necessary work to grow."
The new league is aligned with the United Soccer Leagues and will become a member of the United States Soccer Federation, two organizations that will provide key services to the teams. Rules of play will be the same as in the MISL.
Healey said he expects to "bring back our players," a reference to negotiations that became necessary when all became free agents after the MISL disbanded.
"We wanted to upgrade after being last year's champs in the AISL," Rockford owner Tom Rubio said. "We looked at the offering and decided there was good, solid, proven management in Baltimore."
Hale and Rubio expressed a desire for some sort of contact between the two new leagues, either via exhibition games or in a postseason championship format.
"We welcome teams in that league," Hale said. "We'll defend our title against anybody."
The regular-season schedule and playoff format will be announced this month.
1st Mariner Arena
La Raza de Monterrey
Arena Monterrey (Mexico)
Rockford (Ill.) Rampage