MSL attendance strikes out once baseball starts pitch


Blast owner Ed Hale and San Diego Sockers owner Oscar Ancira Jr. don't have much in common during this Major Soccer League semifinal series. Neither wants the other's team to win. But when it comes to putting fans in seats, Hale and Ancira find themselves in the same quandary.

Both are wondering where all the MSL fans have gone.

In San Diego, Ancira has given the fans a product to love. The Sockers win and win and win. But in the first two games of their series with the Blast last week, an average of 5,500 fans showed up. That's about 3,800 short of the season average.

At the Arena last night, 4,148 were on hand to watch the Blast, a team that had made an inspirational run to the playoffs.

"I really think it's us and not the fans," Hale said. "We have to recognize this is an indoor sport and it's outdoors time. We have to start this season earlier and end it earlier. We have to be finished before baseball season starts."

Hale announced a month ago that his team would break even during the regular season and that making the playoffs could determine whether the team made money. When Hale made that statement, he believed making the playoffs would mean making money. Now, it could mean the opposite.

"I haven't seen the final figures for the regular season, but we ended up averaging better than 8,000 fans for the regular season, and 8,000 was our break-even goal," Hale said.

Lest anyone misunderstand the significance of breaking even, only one other professional team in the history of soccer in the United States, either indoors or outdoors -- the defunct Cleveland Force -- has managed not to lose money.

But now come the playoffs, and Hale finds they could cost him money. Only about 55 percent of the team's 3,000 season-ticket holders renewed for postseason. Many of the other fans who come to Blast games during the regular season are a part of groups, and group sales on short notice are difficult to put together, said Blast vice president Drew Forrester. "We're at the mercy of the 'walk-up gods,' " he said.

For Hale, it is a sad state of affairs.

"I was disturbed during my first year of ownership, when we made the championship series and the crowds were small," he said. "I'm even more disturbed now. It could take us from the black to the red, and that's not how it is supposed to be. We've got to do something. As a league, we have to graph each team and find where our downward spirals are -- and I'm sure most of them are in the spring. Anything we do, even if it's wrong, will be better than this."

* BELIEVE IT OR NOT: For the first year in the history of the MSL, no team registered a shutout during the regular season.

* PROMOTED: Former goalkeeper Krys Sobieski, whose MSL career began with the Pittsburgh Spirit in 1981-82 and concluded with the Dallas Sidekicks in 1990-91, has been named coach of the Polish National five-a-side indoor team.

* BELIEVE IT OR NOT II: When Blast forward Jean Harbor scored his first indoor hat trick, Friday against San Diego, it was his first hat trick of any kind in at least three years.

An outdoor star with the Maryland Bays for two years before joining the Blast, Harbor did not score three goals in any of his games with the former American Professional Soccer League champion.

* HELPING THE ECONOMY: Former Blast and St. Louis general manager Dan Counce is doing all he can to help the United States' trade imbalance. Counce has started an export business, Global Link.

"We'll ship anything," Counce said. "But right now, it's mostly shoes and clothes to Mexico and Canada."

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