Stankovic takes lead by sharing secrets of his stormy success


Practice was finished, but veteran Mike Stankovic and second-year man Angelo Panzetta worked on.

"I think Mike has adopted Angelo," said Blast coach Kenny Cooper. "I like him to work with our young players. It's like having a third coach in many ways, and it is making a difference in the way we play."

Stankovic has had a lot of roles with the Blast through the years. He has been an enforcer, an intimidator, a clutch scorer and, from time to time, a finesse player.

In a memorable moment Jan. 5 against St. Louis, he was also something of a wizard, hitting a shot from an angle that would have made Houdini blink. Major Soccer League commissioner Earl Foreman called it the "greatest goal I've ever seen," and Foreman had witnessed the notorious back-heal shot by Stan Stamenkovic in the 1982 All-Star game.

"My secret is I am like a storm," Stankovic said, smiling. "Defenders don't know what direction I am coming from. Yes, a great storm. From left or right, I am the same."

In his 10th Major Soccer League season -- his eighth with the Blast -- Stankovic is also a leader.

And, by his and almost everyone else's admission, the thirtysomething defender/midfielder is having one of the best seasons of his career. It's certainly his best for the Blast since 1986-87, when he scored 27 goals and had 26 assists.

Going into tomorrow's 3:05 p.m. home game against Tacoma, Stankovic already has 10 goals and 21 assists in 26 games. He has a hat trick, three game-winning assists and is tied with Bruce Savage for the team lead in blocked shots with 47.

And then there is this new Stankovic, who is teaching his teammates the art of self-defense.

"Other teams know Mike will stick them hard," said Panzetta, who rooms with Stankovic on road trips. "The rest of us have been asked to take some of that pressure off him, by being more physical. I think some of us, like Mike Reynolds, myself, Richard Chinapoo and Joe Barger, are beginning to show other teams we won't be pushed around and that Mike isn't the only player on the team who won't be pushed."

Reynolds calls Stankovic "the most complete player in the league when he's on his game." And he has been "on" this season.

There is no doubt Stankovic is the master when it comes to getting physical. His high-jabbing elbows are notorious from coast to coast -- Panzetta jokes he is taking Stankovic's advice and sharpening his in a pencil sharpener at night.

In fact, while Stankovic has a team-high 32 penalty minutes, he has been called for only two penalties in the last nine games, an indication his teammates are picking up where he leaves off.

"I like to help the young guys, definitely," Stankovic said. "You spend so much time with them every day and on the road and in 52 games. It is good to help them. They want to grow up and learn something and as they learn, they help me to do my job better, too."

Cooper has moved Stankovic to midfield, where he has the run of the floor. He also appears quicker after losing 10 pounds this season.

"Mike can put his foot on the ball at midfield, like San Diego's Brian Quinn, and you can almost see opposing players freeze," said Cooper, whose team has won four of six games since putting Stankovic and Richard Chinapoo in midfield. "It has helped us. And the direction he has given Angelo and Mike Reynolds has made them more physical and better players for it. People look at the Blast now and know it is not just Mike they have to worry about."

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