Working man's team Blast shuns high-salaried stars for young, hungry ones of future


Scott Manning, Tim Wittman, Bruce Savage, Dale Mitchell, Richard Chinapoo, Joe Barger and Mike Reynolds are gone.

As the Blast begins training for the 1991-92 season, the pressing question is: Who's left?

"Potentially, a few heroes," Blast midfielder Mark Mettrick said at yesterday's opening of training camp. "We don't have any big mega-stars, but we've got some good, young hungry guys with things to prove and achieve. Hopefully, we'll do the job."

The Blast has taken a decidedly different approach from the rest of the Major Soccer League. While the other six teams have gone for high-salaried, big-name scorers, the Blast has decided to take a more common man tact.

Salaries have been structured in the medium range, primarily from $30,000 to $50,000, instead of at the opposite ends of the scales.

"We don't have a $60,000 player," said Blast vice president Drew Forrester, citing the maximum salary allowed in the league this season. "With the $550,000 salary cap, if we signed a guy for $60,000, then we'd have to sign two others at the minimum $16,000. It is simple math. We felt to approach it any other way than the way we have would be sacrificing overall team experience."

Reynolds passed away this summer, Savage decided to pursue an outdoor career and Manning, Wittman and Chinapoo were never in the Blast's plans. The salary cap, however, has cost the team Barger, backup goalkeeper Hank Henry and, to some degree, Mitchell. It also made it impossible to reach early agreement with San Diego midfielder Waad Hirmez, but that situation is still being negotiated.

"If the money had been there, we could have settled with Hirmez six weeks ago," Forrester said. "Initially, Waad's asking price was too great when we thought we would have Paul Wright on the roster."

The suspension of Wright, for not reporting, combined with the fact Hirmez still does not have a team, has brought the two sides closer.

"I'm talking to Waad and I'm talking to Jim Gabarra, who was also with San Diego," Forrester said. "I'm also talking to a few others."

Hirmez, 28, has spent the last seven years as a Socker tormenting the Blast. Last season, he produced 43 goals and 20 assists. Gabarra, who will be 32 Sunday, is a two-year Sockers veteran and had 19 goals and 14 assists last season.

Meanwhile, 20 other players, including four draft choices, are trying out for from one to three bottom-line salaried spots.

"The attitude of this team is going to be a lot different from last season," said defender/assistant coach Mike Stankovic, who is running the daily practices while coach Kenny Cooper is hospital

ized with a blood clot in his leg. "We're going to be a quicker, tougher team defensively, with Doug Neely, Iain Fraser and Rod Castro back there. That's a lot of young legs and a lot of experience and talent."

It is the basis of the new Blast philosophy, which is turning back the clock to 1982-83. That year, the team used pure hustle to go 30-18 and then scrapped its way to the final game of the championship series, where it lost to San Diego.

"I think it will be very good to have a young energetic team that's eager to play," said Mettrick. "A lot of other teams have mega-stars, but I think any team that is going to win a championship is going to have to have a strong defense. It is going to be quite interesting opposites, you know what I mean?"

* Blast defender Angelo Panzetta, who suffered knee ligament damage last January, has been cleared to play after seven months of rehabilitation and worked out yesterday, with no seeming ill effects.

* While everyone passed their team physicals, Mettrick and Joe Koziol were to undergo further tests yesterday, before beginning practice today.

* Domenic Mobilio is wrapping up business in Vancouver and was absent from opening practice yesterday . . . John Abe is expected in camp today and his Maryland Bays teammate, goalkeeper Steve Powers, is expected tomorrow.

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