Blast's Celenza has one last goal: Go out a champion

Archbishop Curley alum, who is retiring after Friday's MISL title game vs. Milwaukee, takes pride in having played his entire pro career in his native city

  • Blast forward Giuliano Celenza, rear, defends against the Missouri Comet's Lucas Rodriguez in the season finale, a 17-6 win for the Blast.
Blast forward Giuliano Celenza, rear, defends against the… (Barbara Haddock Taylor…)
March 23, 2011|By Kent Baker, Special to The Baltimore Sun

When Giuliano Celenza was first signing with the Blast as a 21-year-old out of college, general manager Kevin Healey received a phone call from another Major Indoor Soccer League official.

"He wanted to know if Jules' visa was in place," Healey recalled with a smile.

That inquiry about Celenza, who is of Italian heritage, was off by an ocean and a continent. The young man's heart has always been in Highlandtown, and his body has followed obediently. From where Celenza was born and grew up, he easily could have walked to the Blast's offices and practice facility.

It is this devotion to home, family and soccer that has carried him through an 11-year professional career that will conclude Friday at 1st Mariner Arena when the Blast hosts its bitterest rival, the Milwaukee Wave, in the MISL championship game.

Celenza wants nothing more than to retire at age 32 with his sixth title after staying put when he could have ranged far and wide to continue playing the game he loves so much. So intent was he on remaining locally that he nearly stopped playing soccer.

"I got a lot of negative reaction when I didn't go to Clemson [out of Archbishop Curley]," he said, "All the criticism had me thinking about quitting. But I wouldn't change a thing now."

Drafted by the Spirit (the forerunner of the Blast) at the same time, Celenza wanted to attend college, but not in South Carolina. The forward enrolled at Essex Community College and two years later began a standout career at UMBC.

He left many in the tight-knit soccer community of East Baltimore wondering what might have been had he attended Clemson or later played professionally in Europe, particularly in Italy.

"My only lament is that he didn't play in the First Division in Italy," said Pep Perrella, who coached Celenza at Curley. "He could have made a lot of money doing that. But I'm not cutting him down at all and completely understand why he didn't. He didn't want to cut ties to his family, and he takes a lot of pride in the fact that he's played here all his life."

From the beginning, Celenza was a prodigy. He became acquainted with a soccer ball at age 3, and two years later had to play in under-10 ball because he was simply too advanced for the under-8 group.

"He just had God-given ability that you can't teach," Perrella said. "A natural. He's only 5-[foot]-4 but hit the ball like he was 6-5. Very seldom was he not square on the ball. And his lateral movement was so swift. Defenders weren't used to marking an attacker who could move so well laterally. He could beat three guys in a small grid and still get a shot off."

Added Pete Caringi, his coach at UMBC: "He's got one of the best pure shots I've ever seen. He rarely hits the ball over the top [of the goal] the way he turns and shoots. That's because he is so quick on the turn."

Blast coach Danny Kelly praised Celenza's strength.

"Jules can score goals," he said. "The way he can strike the ball is second to none. He gets a lot of power on his shots."

In his first game with the Blast, he headed in the game-winner against the Philadelphia KiXX and "he was off and running," Healey said. That was the first of 426 points he has amassed, and he went on one of only three players in franchise history to exceed 400 points and 200 games played.

Teammates like to rib Celenza about some of his habits.

"He talks to his wife [Beverly] a lot on the phone," said his roommate on the road, team captain Robbie Aristodemo, tongue in cheek. "And he's kind of a neat freak who takes everything out and folds it. Plus, he sleeps like a grizzly bear. It gets to be a little annoying."

Added former team captain P.J. Wakefield, now a Baltimore County policeman: "He and Robbie kid each other a lot. Jules does like to keep himself clean, and that phone is glued to his ear on a trip."

Defender Billy Nelson, like Wakefield, has played with and against Celenza since they were in youth ball.

"He can be grumpy, but he can also make you laugh," Nelson said. "The only thing I notice different about him now is that he [talks] more and gets in an opponent's ear."

Added Kelly: "He's very good at finding the black cloud, but not in a bad way. At times, he's a bit of a curmudgeon."

Even team owner Ed Hale, who hired Celenza to work in the mortgage operation of his 1st Mariner Bank, joins the chorus.

"A lot of players have told me he was a 21-year-old 'old man' when he came and now he's an older 'old man.' "

The demands of the speedy game have caught up to Celenza, who will spend more time with daughters McKenzie and Julian, and his parents, Maria and Anselmo, who still live in the house where he grew up. Celenza is also applying to become a Maryland Transit Authority policeman.

In a league where franchises and players come and go rapidly, Celenza has been a Baltimore rock.

"Eleven seasons is a lot to commit to one organization in the MISL," Aristodemo said. "Now he wants to go out on top."

Said Celenza: "I'm going to miss the game, but I've had a good run. Hopefully, the fans appreciated what I did. They're the best fans in the MISL. And I hope the kids look up to me and some of them follow their dream like I did."

The dream never took him far from his roots.

Giuliano Celenza's career statistics

Games2602-point goals1131-point goals1033-point goals2Assists91Points426
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