Billy Ronson could hardly suppress his delight after agreeing to play for the Arena Soccer League team that is to begin a 10-game season here next May.
"It gives me a chance to finish my career in Baltimore, which is what I want to do," said Ronson, who was released by the Blast at the end of the Major Soccer League season and was not pursued by the Spirit, the new National Professional Soccer League team in town.
"It's nice to have the opportunity to decide for myself when I want to retire and not have someone else do it for me," he said.
Ronson joined two other former Blast players, Mark Mettrick and Joe Barger, as the first players signed by the new team that is being represented by attorney Ben Neal. Neal said yesterday that he also has reached agreement with former Blast trainer Marty McGinty to work with the ASL team.
"I think it's going to be fun," said McGinty, who last week took a full-time job with the Sports Medicine Clinic at Union Memorial Hospital. "These are some of the players I had a lot of fun with when we were all with the Blast. Now I can continue to enjoy them and the sport a few nights a week. When I interviewed with the Blast three years ago, coach Kenny Cooper told me that once I met the people and got involved, I wouldn't want to leave the game. I didn't believe him then, but he's right."
The new franchise does not have a name.
"I think we're going to let the fans decide," Neal said. It also doesn't have a head coach, but Neal said he has talked with at least three area prospects. Sources say the job has been offered to Pete Caringi, the former Essex Community College and Maryland Bays coach who is now the coach at UMBC.
Ronson, 35, still says he can play the indoor game despite having undergone knee surgery near the end of last season to correct a torn biceps tendon.
"My dad always told me not to play hurt, because you won't play well and no one will know that you're hurt," Ronson said. "And he was right. I played hurt, and in the end, it hurt me. But now I've signed with the ASL, and I've got three opportunities with teams in the NPSL. I'd love to be playing with the Spirit here in Baltimore, but it wasn't Mr. Hale [Blast owner Ed Hale] who wouldn't have me back with the Blast, it was Mr. Kenny Cooper, who is now coaching the Spirit and doesn't think I can play anymore."
All of which should make this evening's activities at Dundalk American Legion Post 38 interesting. The Soccer Club of Baltimore will honor the under-12 and under-17 state champions and the under-19 national indoor champions. Expected to be on hand are Ronson, Cooper, Neal and other coaches such as Loyola's Bill Sento and UMBC's Caringi.
There is some tension between the two new teams in town. Cooper has said that the contract between the Spirit and the Baltimore Arena gives him the right of first refusal on any soccer dates requested by anyone else in the downtown building.
That, evidently, means that when the ASL submits its date requests, Cooper has 21 days to approve those dates for ASL use or agree that the Spirit will use them. The ASL is seeking five home dates in the Arena from May through July.