Blast hope offseason additions were a trophy haul

Team begins season Friday vs. Riot at 1st Mariner Arena

  • Pat Morris speaks to the media Nov. 8 after Baltimore Blast president and general manager Kevin Healey announced the the team signed the veteran defender, who spent the last 11 seasons with the Philadelphia KiXX.
Pat Morris speaks to the media Nov. 8 after Baltimore Blast president… (Doug Kapustin / Photo for…)
November 18, 2010|By Glenn Graham, THE BALTIMORE SUN

After a subpar 2009-10 season that ended abruptly in the Major Indoor Soccer League semifinals, the Baltimore Blast has added some promising new pieces to its veteran core with a blueprint geared toward returning to its lofty standard.

The 31st season of professional indoor soccer in Baltimore begins Friday night when the Blast takes on the Chicago Riot at 1st Mariner Arena. Game time is set for 7:35.

The home team, winners of five championships in the past eight seasons, is confident it has the right mix to add another crown. In addition to newcomer Chicago, Baltimore will compete against longtime rival Milwaukee Wave and fellow newcomers Missouri Comets and Omaha Vipers in the five-team league.

The return of forward Adauto Neto, a former league Most Valuable Player who was part of two championship teams here, and the addition of former Philadelphia KiXX veteran Pat Morris, a two-time league Defender of the Year, highlighted the productive offseason.

"The offseason was very good with the new additions, plus we believe in the players that we brought back. We think we have a team that should contend for a championship. But, once again, you have to earn that on the field," Blast president/general manager Kevin Healey said.

The Blast's primary concern was adding firepower at the target forward position to provide help for standout Machel Millwood.

In addition to Neto, who will be sidelined for at least three weeks after knee surgery earlier this week, the Blast brought in Worteh Sampson and Warren Ukah to add size and skill up front. Sampson gave the Blast fits during his days playing with the now-defunct Detroit Ignition, and Ukah scored 14 goals and 11 assists as a rookie for the Wave in the 2007-08 season before playing outdoor soccer in the United Soccer Leagues' Second Division.

"All these guys we picked up are big and strong and, in our game, a lot of the offense starts with the targets," Blast coach Danny Kelly said. "I think we now have four guys that can do the job. Not only can they hold the ball, all of them can beat guys one-on-one and also distribute."

Sampson believes the talent and depth makes the position one of the team's strengths.

"The fact that we have four guys that are just as good as the next guy is a key considering it's a long season," he said. "We're pretty solid up top and opposing teams have to be worried about all of us."

The Blast's defense also got a significant upgrade with the late arrival of Morris, who was signed last week after the Philadelphia KiXX folded. In 11 seasons, Morris has become one of the top two-way defenders in the league. The first-team All-MISL defender finished with 47 points last season and brings savvy play and leadership.

Healey and the Blast are happy to have Morris in the home team's locker room Friday night at 1st Mariner.

"He's the kind of player you have to talk about before the game because not only does he do all the little things defensively, but he's the kind of player that will make you pay at the other end as well," Healey said.

Veteran goalkeeper Sagu enters his seventh season with the Blast. Veterans Carlos Garcia and Billy Nelson will anchor the defense with Morris. Lucio Gonzaga, Giuliano Celenza and Max Ferdinand return to bolster the attack with crafty midfielder Robbie Aristodemo back as team captain.

"Every year, the mindset of the organization is to win a championship. I think we have more depth this year than we had last year. We have 20 strong players, and each and every one can come in and give us a lift," Aristodemo said.

Not on the roster is the Blast's all-time leading scorer and fan favorite, Denison Cabral. He decided not to return after the team asked him to try out without a contract.

Along with the departure of the KiXX, the Monterrey LaRaZa, last year's champion, will not field a team because of hurricane damage to its home arena. Monterrey upset the Blast in the semifinals before defeating the Wave in the championship game.

glenn.graham@baltsun.com

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