After years of growing exasperation with the uncertain make-up of the Major Indoor Soccer League, Baltimore Blast owner Ed Hale is pushing hard for a merger with the 20-team Professional Arena Soccer League, based largely in the western half of the country.
Despite his franchise's stable fan base and on-field success, Hale said, "I'm just tired of worrying about who's going to come back and who's not going to come back, with no expansion contemplated."
Though Hale said he intends to bring the Blast back next season, he said Tuesday that he can't envision the team continuing to play in the MISL's current, seven-team format.
In hopes of spurring merger talk, Hale met with fellow owners from the MISL and PASL in Dallas on Sunday. He termed the meeting positive and said talks will continue as both leagues wind down their current seasons. Hale described the negotiations as a make-or-break opportunity to give indoor soccer a greater national profile.
"This could be one of those watershed moments for indoor soccer," he said. "If it doesn't happen, I'm going to be really sad."
PASL commissioner Kevin Milliken said a merger would benefit the sport, but he spoke of the prospect with less urgency in a Tuesday interview.
"I'm conducting PASL business like nothing is going to happen," Milliken said. He was traveling Sunday and did not attend the meeting in Dallas.
PASL officials held extensive merger discussions last spring and summer with counterparts from MISL's parent company, United Soccer Leagues. Milliken said the discussions ultimately broke down because of questions about who would own a potential merged league.
In rekindling discussions, Hale essentially worked around his league's parent company. He said he invited USL officials to the Dallas meeting but said they declined and were "not happy" with his efforts.
USL officials did not respond to calls seeking comment.
Hale said his franchise's contract with the USL will expire in early April, and he said that would be a natural time for merger negotiations to intensify.
Milliken said there's "a lot of value" in the concept of a merged league.
"It's just a no-brainer, because you're talking about 20 or more teams, stretching coast to coast," he said. "Now, you'd be looking at the reality of getting national sponsorship and maybe even a television deal to be broadcast nationally."
He said he expects the discussion to pick up once both leagues wrap their seasons. The MISL final is scheduled for March 16. The Blast are currently in second place with a 13-3 record.
"We're doing very, very well, and I enjoy doing it," Hale said of the Blast. "I just want more teams."