In 2005, when he was released from his Major League Soccer contract with Real Salt Lake after one season, Mike Lookingland considered two options.
One was to try to find a new MLS team. The other option, however, just felt right.
"Even when I was playing in the MLS, I used to always talk up the Baltimore Blast," he said. "I always knew in my heart that's where I wanted to play. So as soon as I got released, I called [Blast general manager] Kevin Healey and asked if the Blast had any room for me. He said 'Yeah, we have one spot left.' To play for my home team ... it's been a dream come true."
Lookingland, a Fallston native and Loyola High graduate about to begin his ninth season with the Blast, has developed into the top defender in the Major Indoor Soccer League. As the team captain, he's now the face of the franchise as it begins defense of last year's MISL championship.
The Blast open its 2013-14 season with a road game against the Rochester Lancers on Saturday at 7:05 p.m.
"All the qualities Mike has as a player and a leader have grown each year," Blast coach Danny Kelly said. "And consequently, he became the natural choice as team captain [last season]. He has numerous championships under his belt and you can't think of a better guy to have behind you protecting the house. He's just been a tremendous asset for us."
Lookingland, who turned 30 in September, finished second on the team in blocked shots with 35 and tied for third in scoring with 15 goals and 17 assists for 49 points while playing on his fourth championship team.
Also a key component on power plays and penalty kills, his fine all-around play and fluid feel for the game earned him the league's Defender of the Year award for a second straight season.
Milwaukee Wave coach Keith Tozer sent high praise Lookingland's way when he compared him to former San Diego star defender Kevin Crow, who played in the MISL's heyday in the 1980's.
"Mike is a confident man," Tozer said. "He has that certain air about him, the positive frame where he can control the game on both sides of the ball. Technically and tactically, it takes a couple years to fully learn this game and Michael has done that. He's been one of the highest scoring defenders in the league, one of the top defenders on the defensive end and he's a leader. So when you add all that up, you have a very successful soccer player."
When he was growing up, Lookingland lived across the street from former Blast star Tim Wittman, who would regularly give him tickets to games. Rooting on the home team left a strong impression on Lookingland.
"I remember watching Wittman take penalty shootouts and he would always do something absolutely crazy, like juggling in and then rainbow it over the goalie," Lookingland said. "And he would always score!"
Now, Lookingland gets the cheers and youngsters look up to him. He relishes being a role model in Baltimore's strong soccer community — he's also a youth coach with the Baltimore Celtic Soccer Club and owns Dynasty Sports Academy, which provides special training in a number of sports.
"For me, it's all about the kids," he said. "It's really just a passion for the sport and recognizing we're important in the community in terms of being able to have an impact on kids because we're so involved with them.
"They get to meet us and see what kind of people we are and that's why we have a strong following. They really respect us because they see how much we love the game, but also how much we do out in the community as well."
With a growing company and growing family — he and his wife, Ashley, have two boys under 2 years old — Lookingland wasn't planning to return to the Blast this season. Fans can thank Ashley for having the chance to see Lookingland wearing the captain's band again this season.
"My wife gave me the go-ahead because she knows how much I love soccer," he said. "She just said 'Mike, go play.'"
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