Goalie William Vanzala and teammates celebrate a goal against Detroit's Waza Flo.
Goalie William Vanzala and teammates celebrate a goal against Detroit's Waza Flo. (Reginald Thomas II/For City Paper)

It was a perfectly executed soccer goal.

Baltimore Blast defender Kaoru Forbess received the ball just over the midfield line. He bounced a pass off the wall to forward Andrew Hoxie, waiting by the wing.


Hoxie held the ball for a second and then nudged it backward with the bottom of his foot to Forbess coming down the field.

Almost immediately, Forbess sent a pass off the wall just to the left of the goal that caromed into the goal box to the waiting Hoxie, who sent the ball inside the far post for an easy score.

The towering Hoxie ran a few gallops toward his team's bench, arms outstretched and fists clenched, before leaping and pumping his right fist in the air. Enter Kool & The Gang, as is customary any time the home team scores at Royal Farms Arena.

dun-dun-dun-dun dun dun dun-dun

"It's a celebration."

dun-dun-dun-dun dun dun dun-dun


dun-dun-dun-dun dun dun dun-dun

"Ceeeeeeelebrate good times, come ON!"

As is also customary, the goal-scorer, in this case Hoxie, received a rolled-up T-shirt from the bench and tossed it to fans in the stands following the team's on-field celebration.

Baltimore Blast 1, Detroit Waza Flo 1. And the game-tying goal took all of seven seconds to develop.

By now, you may be asking yourself several questions: Wall? Wing? What the fuck is a Waza Flo?

The answer to all three: They are a part of professional indoor soccer. And the Blast, Baltimore's franchise for more than three decades, is one of the most dominant teams in the sport. It has won seven championships in its history, more than any other team in Baltimore, and appeared in the championship game (or series) six of the last seven years. And with a 13-2 record in the 2015-2016 campaign, the team is once again positioned for another title shot.

But there's something about attending a Blast game that feels like a down-home throwback compared to the in-town big-league atmosphere of the Orioles and Ravens. It doesn't have that grand scale, and that's not just because the games are in the more intimate setting of the decaying Royal Farms Arena, a building showing all 55 of its years in blemishes and outdated architecture—though that's certainly part of it.


And it's not just the performances by local school choruses or dance groups before the game and during breaks or the steady soundtrack of jock jams during the action—it may be one of the last places you can hear 'Who Let the Dogs Out?' played in earnest—or the vocal gusto of P.A. announcer Gary St. Ours ("Blaaaaaaast goooooooal, for number 28, Viniiiiiii DANTAAAAAAAS") or the once-per-game playing of the "SpongeBob Squarepants" theme song that gets every kid in the arena singing along. Though those are all part of it, to be sure.

It's this: The players are out there to win, but they are also trying to win you over. They do this through post-game autograph signings and pictures, afterparties with fans at Pratt Street Ale House, camps for kids, and countless appearances in the community. And they do it all for a fraction of what players make in the major sports, hailing from places as close as Bel Air and as far away as Cameroon to scratch out a living as a pro soccer player.

"That's the difference between us and like, baseball, football, when you never get chance to meet your favorite player, or if you do, it's just two seconds, sign something and just leave because they are busy," says star goalkeeper and co-team captain William Vanzela, a native of Brazil. "We like to keep our fans together, so we know a couple fans by name, we have a relationship with them. And I think it's good for either side, because the players love to be involved with fans and the fans love to be involved with players."

Head coach Danny Kelly, a former player on the team from 1999 to 2006, says such outreach is "extremely important."

"We need to get out in the community and be out there and be approachable, and we are—going into schools, talking to kids, we're regular people and they can reach out and touch us," he says. "We know that's a big part of getting people to continue to come to games."

The appearances and work with rec council leagues and youth groups such as the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts has helped the team build a solid audience that has kept the club viable for the last 17 years.

The history of the pro indoor game, however, has been anything but stable. After bursting onto the pro sports scene in the early '80s, several leagues have folded and new ones have replaced them, only to flop. Even more teams have come and gone.

For the 2014-2015 season, two of the remaining leagues, the Professional Arena Soccer League and Major Indoor Soccer League, merged to create the Major Arena Soccer League, a move that gave the pro indoor game coast-to-coast coverage and was supposed to help grow arena soccer into the 21st century.

But now Blast owner Edwin F. Hale Sr., who helped to broker the merger, is signaling that he's going to take his team and move on.

"You can quote me: I'm not coming back in the MASL," he says.

The league has had its growing pains. Five teams—including the champion Monterrey Flash of Mexico, the team that outlasted the Blast in a thrilling three-game championship finale—did not return after the inaugural season. Games can be streamed on the website GoLiveSportscast.com, where they are also archived, but the site is often glitchy, and there is no cable channel carrying the games.

And some of the biggest headlines the MASL attracted in its early stage came from a lawsuit brought by cheerleaders for the Seattle franchise that alleged owner, coach, and player Dion Earl sexually assaulted them.

Not yet ready to make his plans public, Hale intimated in an interview that he wants to take part in a new league that more carefully vets the owners, both to make the league a sustainable business and to avoid any legal entanglements that might come from further malfeasance.

"I want to somehow get with a group that's gonna have properly sized arenas and proper capitalization, a sustainable business plan," says Hale, who indicated that his fellow owners think of him as the George Steinbrenner of indoor soccer. "That sounds like a lot of talk, and people are not going to give a shit about it when you're writing, but that's the truth."

Currently, MASL owners have equal shares of the league. Under Hale's plan, a more traditional franchiser-franchisee model would be put in place with a stronger central league office.

"That's just a fundamental business thing that I thought, and my attorneys think, has been wrong," says Hale, the real estate developer and former trucker, shipper, and 1st Mariner Bank head. "That's a large part of the reason for me doing this."

Is it possible the Blast could be going it alone on this?

"Possibly," says Hale.


But he assures the Blast will continue on.

"There will be some form of Baltimore Blast soccer. We may not be playing some of the people that are in the league now."

Blast midfielder Jonatas Melo signing an autograph for a young fan.
Blast midfielder Jonatas Melo signing an autograph for a young fan. (Reginald Thomas II/For City Paper)

After coming out of halftime against Detroit ahead only 2-1—a paltry score in arena soccer—two quick goals for both teams bring the score to 3-2, and then the Blast take over, led by forward Vini Dantas' four goals in the third quarter.

Final score: Baltimore Blast 9, Detroit Waza Flo 3.

When they're on, the Blast can have complete control of a game, as was the case in the second half. The defense is great at pressuring their opponents, forcing errant passes and turnovers. On the other side of the ball, the Blast make crisp passes, distributing the ball to set up scoring opportunities. But they don't often force anything. If a play looks like it isn't working, a player will pass the ball to a teammate away from the goal and they'll set something else up.

So how did they get so good? How do they remain a consistent winner?

"Continuity" is the word used by Hale, Kelly, and team President Kevin Healey, whose son, Pat, is a star defender and co-team captain. The trio have been running the organization since Kelly took over coaching duties in 2006. Hale and Kevin Healey have been together dating back to 1998.

Similarly, the team tries to keep its core of veteran players together for as long as possible, supplementing the roster with young talent and older free agents looking to join a winning organization.

And then there's good old hard work. The Blast practice or work out nearly every day they're not playing, depending on the team's game schedule—something not every organization in the MASL does.

Hoxie, in his first season with the Blast, was struck by that meticulous environment when he first got to town following stints in Wichita and Rochester.

"It's very, very structured. There's a certain way that the Blast play, and we hammer it down in practice every single day, we work on it," he says. "And that's what I'm talking about. A lot of teams I've been on, we don't have that sort of structure, it's more just playing and getting a feel for the game."

A bit of that disparity was on display in the Detroit game on Jan. 8. The Blast looked more athletic and appeared to be better trained. Kelly was businesslike, dressed in a suit as he yelled directions while standing on the bench. Detroit's assistant coach Dominic Scicluna, with his long, crinkled bleach-blond hair done up in a quasi-man bun and outfit of a patterned blue-and-gray shirt and sneakers, looked like your neighborhood pot dealer.

Scicluna is a co-owner of the team with his brother, Mario, and in 2015, when he still played on the Waza Flo, he traded himself to Las Vegas.

Long after the game at Royal Farms Arena had ended, he entertained a group of kids still in the stands with tricks, juggling the ball with his feet and then balancing it on his head. As Blast fans were milling around the field during the post-game autograph session with players, Scicluna was talking with a few people about his soccer-inspired hip-hop album. (Waza Flo, by the way, is derived from the word "waza" meaning "technique" in Japanese and "to think clearly" in Swahili, or so says the team's website.)

Even if you put those particular eccentricities aside, there are a number of reasons why soccer purists are likely to scoff at the indoor game.

And some of the players do too, according to Kelly.

"We've had outdoor guys come in, and you can tell by the way they talk, the way they carry themselves," he says. "But after a practice, after two practices, they realize pretty quickly that the guys they're playing with, against, are very good soccer players."

Instead of a playing surface that's roughly the same size as an American football field, this version of the world's game is played on an artificial turf field that's about as big as a hockey rink. The closer confines make the lines on the field look more like a basketball court, including a long arc that looks like the three-point line—that's there because, up until last year, there was such a thing as a three-point goal.

And like a hockey rink, the playing surface is walled off. In addition to those waist-tall walls around the whole oval, there are higher glass boards forming a semicircle behind each goal, which allows for the bounces and caroms that lead to more shots and, in turn, more goals. It's not unusual to see a team score 10 times or more.

The hockey walls also bring out the hockey-type hits.

"They get beat up," says Hale. "They get boarded, it's like hockey without skates and without padding. They wear shorts and T-shirts."

At its core, though, the game is the same as its outdoor counterpart, says Pat Healey. "Everything's just squished."

"It's still, can you make that pass, [those] shots?" he says. "Everything defensively: tackles, one-on-one. It's still soccer."

Or, as MASL Vice President of Business Development Kevin Milliken puts it, indoor is a version of soccer with a "more of everything."

"I still love the outdoor game, but the indoor game, at the end of the day, it's just more exciting," he says with a laugh. "From either a playing or watching perspective–let's face it, there's more shots, more goals, it's more physical."

Given the outdoor game's prevalence around the globe, it comes as no surprise that almost all the players on the Blast roster came up through outdoor soccer, with many having college careers on Division I teams.

But that doesn't mean any college player can walk into the Royal Farms Arena and catch on. Healey and Kelly look for players in any number of areas—scouting colleges, watching games on the internet, receiving email submissions with game tapes, getting recommendations from players already on the team—but the one thing that's essential is good ball handling.

"Your ability to trap the ball, to bring the ball under control, must be very, very good," says Kevin Healey. "In outdoor, sometimes control can get a little away [from you], because the field's big, you have a little bit more time and space. Here you don't have time and space."

Several Blast players still play the outdoor game, joining teams in the United Soccer League or North American Soccer League—pro leagues below the top-tier Major League Soccer—during the spring and summer months, creating a somewhat nomadic existence to piece together a pro soccer career.

Others will make the rest of their income coaching camps run through the Blast organization or giving private lessons.

That's the best way to stay in the league and make a living. Unlike the major sports, where athletes regularly pull in seven figures, arena soccer players don't make a lot of money.

But Kevin Healey stresses that all the players on the team are making their livelihoods through the game. And the organization helps its players by providing apartments in Cockeysville for players if they so choose, making it a little easier to stretch their wages.


"Very few of our players—one or two—may have went out and got a part-time job, whether it's an exercise gym or something like that. It's 'cause that's what they want to do at that point in time," he says. "Our guys are mostly making a living at soccer. Now, they're combining indoor soccer with coaching and training kids and playing outdoor soccer, some of 'em. But the vast majority of our players are making their living off soccer."

Both Hale and Kevin Healey declined to give specifics on team salary, and Milliken, the league vice president, said he was still looking over the salaries from this season and did not have final numbers. But figures have surfaced in previous news reports about the MISL. A 2014 article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that team salaries ranged from $150,000 to $300,000. Split that against the 20 members currently on the Blast, and that's $15,000 per man.

An article from the Seattle Times in the same year placed the average player salary at $300 per game. The story's author, Geoff Baker, acquired a report on the league from a Seattle marketing firm, which found that Baltimore "averaged 5,544 fans while deriving nearly $583,000 from ticket sales, $751,000 from cash sponsorships and $101,000 from soccer camps hosted by players."

The duration of a player's career really depends on the individual, as Pat Healey puts it, with certain players trying to stretch out their careers for as long as possible and others leaving in their prime for more stable jobs. In recent years, two Blast players, Mike Deasel and PJ Wakefield, left for first-responder positions in Baltimore County, a firefighter and a cop, respectively.

"A football player's doing everything he can to play another year, or a baseball player," he says. "Here it's maybe not that. There's things that—you gotta sometimes look to your next job."

It's not like in the NFL and MLB where, barring injury, a player is ensured to stay in the game for the length of his multi-million-dollar contract. To give you an idea, here's a bit of a cross-section based on the interviews with players City Paper spoke to:

Now in his eighth year with the Blast, Pat Healey is the longest-tenured player on the team. Coming out of Towson University, Healey was drafted by Major League Soccer's Kansas City Wizards, only to be cut in training camp. In his first three pro seasons, he played both indoor and outdoor, with the Blast and Crystal Palace Baltimore of the USL before the latter dissolved. Now, he just plays the indoor game (he's also a captain of the U.S. national futsal team), and to supplement his Blast salary, he says he coaches and runs a league with his parents.

"It's kind of a family business," he says with a laugh.

As a team captain and one of the best-known players, Healey makes it to many of the team's appearances. While doing his taxes recently, he calculated that he appeared at 45 events last year, or close to four a month.

Healey, 30, could still play a few more years, but he says he takes time at the end of each season to consider his options.

"Every year I re-evaluate everything and then make my decision, in a way," he says. "I never really have more than a one-year contract anyway, and I'm fine with that."

Like many Brazilians, forward Dantas grew up playing futsal, a variation of indoor soccer played on a hard surface with a heavier ball. At 18, he moved to the U.S. to play outdoor at Azusa Pacific University in California.

In 2011, he began his professional career in Norway, where he would play for two teams over two seasons before moving to Finland to play another season with a different team. He returned to the Americas in 2014 to play for Ottawa Fury FC of the NASL, and it was that same year he first joined the Blast after hearing about the team from forward Tony Donatelli.

The next year in his outdoor career, he was moving on to the Pittsburgh Riverhounds of the USL. He says the year-round grind of a professional soccer career suits him and his wife just fine.

"The soccer life, it's always a little bit like that where you move around. But I consider myself blessed to see the things I've seen, to have been in the places I've been," he says. "I'm only 26 still and I've traveled pretty much all over Europe, seen a lot of history and stuff like that."

After stops with two outdoor teams, the Orange County Blues and Rochester Rhinos, and two indoor clubs, Hoxie, 29, is considering staying in Baltimore year-round, meaning the end of the year-round outdoor-indoor hustle.

He gives private soccer lessons on the side to make ends meet, but he's now looking into flying drones professionally after taking college-level courses, flying for 20 hours—they typically only stay in the air for about 20 minutes, he notes—and getting his certification.

"It's a very up-and-coming business," he says. "There's a lot of companies that are making millions of dollars right now."

He recently bought his own Phantom drone, which runs about $1,500 to $1,700.

Vanzela was playing futsal professionally in Italy when a friend of his who played on the Syracuse Silver Knights sold him on playing indoor in the U.S. in 2012. Syracuse already had a goalie, so they recommended Vanzela to the Blast, where the keeper was named to the All-Rookie team and has won the Goalkeeper of the Year award the last two seasons.

Playing in the U.S. provided a much more secure situation than in Italy, where his team would sometimes fail to pay him.

"You're just focused to play your game, you don't have to think about missed payments, pay your bills late, and fees and stuff," he says.

As with any form of soccer, someone has to be a little nuts to stand between the posts as their opponents rip shots at them, but that's especially true in indoor, where the ball's bouncing all over the place.

"You must be crazy to play goalie, 'cause shots come from everywhere. Ball hit the glass and deflect, and the ball comes too fast," he jokes. "And you get hit every single game, so you're never healthy. But I love it. When you make a save, it feels like you scored a goal."

Vanzela, who turns 31 in March, thinks he still has several years left to play indoor, but the idea of returning to Brazil, where he owns a home construction company, weighs on his mind.

"It's been more than 10 years outside my country, so I kinda miss my friends, my family. You know, maybe get together with them," he says. "I don't know. I love being here, I think it's a great opportunity, so I haven't decided yet. I'm gonna take a few years to make a smart decision, which is the best for me."

Blast coach Danny Kelly heads to a practice session.
Blast coach Danny Kelly heads to a practice session. (J.M. Giordano/City Paper)

It's almost time for the game to start, and Kathy Reynolds, 59, of Dundalk, is breaking down the Baltimore Blast Fan Club table in the concourse of the arena. A night after playing the Waza Flo, the Blast are back to face off against the Harrisburg Heat.

On the field, the pre-game Parade of Champions ceremony is taking place, bringing a local rec league team onto the turf to circle around on the same turf field used by the pros and wave to fans in the stands.

Back in the concourse, Reynolds—the fan club president—declares she hates sports, but she remembers watching her first Blast game in the '80s on television with her brother. Something came over her watching the fast-paced game unfolding before her—or, as she recalled her brother saying, she'd "become possessed," yelling at the refs and cheering wildly. She's been a fan ever since.

She and her husband got married on a Friday and came to the arena the next night to watch a Blast game wearing T-shirts that read "I spent my honeymoon with the Baltimore Blast." They did the same for their first anniversary. Now, they exchange season tickets as anniversary presents.

At present, the fan club has 170 members, who travel to a couple of nearby away games and host events for the players. Each year, there's a holiday party where players get gift certificates from the club's members. They'll also adopt players and give them stockings filled with more gifts.

On Feb. 23, the fan club will hold its annual awards banquet, where they will treat the players and their families to dinner and hand out awards voted on by the fans.

Remembering the days when the arena used to be packed, Reynolds says the team is worthy of the same support it once had.

"I wish more people were here, because I think the players deserve it," she says. "They're every bit as much an athlete as the Orioles and Ravens, and I don't know why Baltimore doesn't get that."

One of the things that keeps her coming back, and seems to bring others back too, is this: "The main reason I love it is the players are so accessible, and we've formed friendships."

Rickee Walker, aka Mr. Tambourine Man, a fixture at Blast home games who wears a vest with decades' worth of commemorative pins and buttons and, on this night, and old red Blast cap and a headband with colorful fiber optic wires arranged to look like a mohawk, agrees.

"The guys are right up front with you," he tells me during the Detroit game. "They're not like the high-priced guys we have now in sports."

Named for the first instrument he played at games in the '80s, Walker, 65, of Cockeysville, now walks around the aisle of the arena concourse banging on an old drum or shaking gas cans filled with chickpeas to the tune of "Let's! Go! Blast!"

He laments how fans "don't get excited anymore like in the old days" and how the game has moved more toward "family-oriented entertainment," but his shtick is kid-friendly too. There's a plush SpongeBob clipped to his belt that he'll shake when the cartoon's theme song plays, and he'll challenge young fans with vuvuzelas—those buzzing plastic horns made famous during the 2010 World Cup—to a vuvuzela-off, which he will inevitably lose.

Paul and Laura Reina, also of Dundalk, who have season tickets directly behind the goal on the south side, both love the game, but they also love that kind of interaction with the players. In the past, players have attended their children's birthday parties.

"They embrace the fans like a true entertainer's supposed to," says Paul, 44.

Evidence is on display a few sections away, where Marc and Stacy Berman are sitting with their 5-year-old son Adam right on the boards. Adam is talking with forward Tony Donatelli during warmups and gets his T-shirt signed.

"They interact with the kids," says Stacy.

"Yeah, they interact with them way more than anywhere else," Marc adds. "They all know his name."

Adam's been coming to games since he's been born, they say, and he was asking all summer long when they would start up again.

Asked about his favorite part of the game, the boy enthuses, "I like when they're kicking the soccer ball."

Moments later, the lights dim, and the opening bars of Metallica's 'For Whom the Bell Tolls' fill the arena, and the scoreboard hanging above the field shows a pump-up video with game highlights and players mean-mugging and asking staccato: "Baltimore. Baltimore. Baltimore. Are. You. Ready?"

The soundtrack switches to Ozzy Osborne's 'Crazy Train' as St. Ours, the public address announcer, introduces the players, who jump through an opening in between the "L" and "A" of a giant, light-up "BLAST" sign. Each comes out holding the hand of a child celebrating their birthday.

Unlike the Detroit game, the Blast get off to a fast start against the Heat, heading to halftime with a 4-0 lead and outshooting their opponents 18-3.Things get much tighter in the second half. The Heat drew closer with three unanswered goals in the third quarter, and for the one of the first times this season, it looked like the Blast would have to fight their way to a win. And they do, with Dantas and Lucas Roque scoring goals late in the fourth to put the game away.

Final score: Baltimore Blast 6, Harrisburg Heat 4.

The win keeps the team's record at a perfect 11-0, and the Blast become the first team in the league to seal a playoff berth.

Blast Defenseman Onua Obasi manuvering through the Detroit Waza Flo defense.
Blast Defenseman Onua Obasi manuvering through the Detroit Waza Flo defense. (Reginald Thomas II/For City Paper)

At the end of January, Hale took his first and only trip for an away game this season to Independence, Missouri, home of the Comets, a team whose ownership he plainly says he does not like.

That stems, in part, from a playoff semifinal series in March 2015 that, in the words of the Kansas City Star, became a "donnybrook." The second and deciding game had a little bit of everything: The Comets coach alleging Hale influenced the referees; contentious officiating; fans throwing trash onto the field; Comets player Andre Braithwaite head-butting Pat Healey as the teams were shaking hands; Hale telling two reporters, according to the Star, "You know why (Missouri was 21-0)? Because they didn't (expletive) play us"; Hale trying to get Independence, Missouri police officers to press charges.

Before his trip this year, Hale reached out to the owners to say he wanted to sell T-shirts outside the Independence Events Center that said "Blast owner Ed Hale is a big asshole."

Missouri wouldn't go for it.


"They have no imagination," says Hale.

So, instead, he went ahead with his trip and announced his intentions to form a competing indoor soccer league during a halftime interview.

"I don't want to be a part of it. There's too much to lose," he said as a group of costumed mascots played a game with a giant ball on the field. "And you know, we're gonna do a franchiser-franchisee next year. I will not be back in the MASL."

"If it's going to be a single entity again, and it's not being done properly," he continued, "I'm not gonna take the chance."

He said that he would consider coming back to the MASL if it moved to the franchisee model—though, in a follow up interview, he said that he would not—but then touched on the issues of standards and the teams that play in soccer domes.

The new league will be called the Indoor Professional League, and Hale says he's gotten interest from owners of minor-league hockey teams in the American Hockey League looking to fill their arenas more nights during the season. Eleven teams are interested, and the St. Louis Ambush has committed to jumping from the MASL to the IPL.

During a follow-up interview the following day, Hale says the IPL's executive office would be located in Baltimore County. An official announcement is expected in mid-to-late March.

In response, Milliken, the MASL vice president, contends the league is on the right path.

"I don't know what somebody wants. If you want it to be the NFL tomorrow, it's not going to happen," he says. "Leagues that have tried that before go bankrupt in two or three years. We just have to have pragmatic, consistent growth, and I think we're gonna do really well."

"I think we're on to something," he continues. "And I think it's a lot more stable. If you look at, really, indoor soccer's history, you know, when was the last time the league had 20 teams?"

Milliken, who in 1998 started the Premier Arena Soccer League, which now functions as something of a developmental league for the MASL, and also started the Professional Arena Soccer League, also contends the changes Hale desires are in the works.

Last April, all the league members voted for the franchisee model, but voted down having Hale as the sole franchiser, Milliken says.

"He wants to run and operate the league. So he says this about the franchise model, but we already voted to move in that direction. And you know, I've been talking to attorneys over the last two months, and we're making quite a lot of progress. So I don't know what he's talking about with that."

Milliken acknowledges that the soccer domes are a "long-term financial problem," but says the six teams with smaller facilities—capacity under 2,000—are all grouped in the Southwest division with plans to accommodate more fans in the future.

"I don't see us, in two to three years, having any of those left," he says. "Everybody's got a project that they're working on."

Teams and leagues have failed throughout the history of indoor soccer, he notes, and in a growing league, where owners are in essence starting up their own small business, that's bound to happen.

"You don't want that to happen," he says, "but that's part of our business."

As for the idea that Hale might be bluffing, as Hale, during his interview, said the league executive committee was alleging: "The truth is I have no idea."

He laughs.

"All I can focus on is what the league is doing and what I'm trying to do, and my job growing the league and operating the league."

Hale questions if Milliken will actually deliver.

"I've been listening to this stuff since I talked to that guy," he says.

In response to the claim by Milliken that he's upset about not being able to run the league himself, Hale says: "He's a liar. He was there when I confronted the Milwaukee and San Diego owner[s] about not getting back to me about being partners in the league, only to be voted down. And if he's doing a franchiser-franchisee, happy birthday."

In a phone interview, Pat Healey says the players found out once they got back to the locker room following the 6-4 loss to the Comets. Though Hale's complaints about the MASL's structure were known by those returning to the team from last year, it was not clear how they were being handled—even to Healey, despite his dad's position as team president ("There's things me and my father keep separately, behind-the-scenes stuff," he says.)

"We didn't know if they were correcting it or what, but he's finding a way of correcting it pretty much himself," he says.

But Healey says the move is not shocking—even if the timing was—and that he understands it. He sees the potential of a new league being the rising tide that lifts all the boats, possibly even leading to a pay increase for players.

"When he's doing this stuff, he's not just helping himself, he's helping us," Healey says of Hale.

This move is but one sea change in the ever-shifting world of professional arena soccer.

"Indoor soccer's been wild since it started. It's kinda always like, 'Who's gonna be back?' and 'What cities are coming in?'" says Healey. "The last couple years we've been wondering, 'Is there gonna be a league?'"

So for now, one of the best teams in the sport, and the winningest franchise in Baltimore, will remain focused on one thing.

"We want to win this year. We always want to win," says Healey. "Whatever league we're playing in, we want to win."