The Baltimore Bays won't have the element of surprise in their corner when they begin their defense of the U.S. Interregional Soccer League championship tonight in Philadelphia.
What the Bays will have is the nucleus of a team that went undefeated last winter, plus the services of former NPSL star Tarik Walker.
Whether that's enough to keep the USISL indoor title in Baltimore won't be determined until February, but Bays coach Kevin Healey is already talking repeat.
"Last year, we had the best team we've ever had and this year's team is comparable, if not better," said Healey, whose squad also will play Philadelphia in its home opener next Friday at Du Burns Arena. "We've put together a nice collection of talent and I really believe we're the team to beat."
Denison Cabral, who was named league MVP and also tournament MVP last year after scoring five goals in the Bays' 10-8 win over the Atlanta Magic in the finals, is back, but is coming off knee surgery and is questionable for tonight's 8 o'clock matchup with the Freedom.
Even if Cabral can't play, the Bays have plenty of go-to people, including Walker (Harrisburg Heat), Billy Ronson, Marcelo Valencia and Rob Elliott.
Cabral led the Bays in scoring last season with 16 goals and nine assists, followed by Ronson (11 goals, 15 assists), Valencia (eight, nine) and Elliott (10, five).
Joe Barger, Joe Koziol, Mark Mettrick and Steve Boardman anchor the Bays' defense, but all are capable of contributing at the other end of the floor. Barger had eight goals and six assists last season and Koziol six goals and one assist.
Matt St. Jean, last year's All-Tournament goalkeeper, is scheduled to split time with veteran Dave Tenney, who sat out most of last season with a separated shoulder.
The Bays will pick up Terry Locklear, the Washington Warthogs' leading scorer, on Dec. 20, and Healey has received an oral commitment to play from University of Maryland senior Shane Dougherty, whose team recently was eliminated from the NCAA tournament by William and Mary.
"Teams are going to be gunning for us, but that just means we have to work harder and get in better shape," said Barger, who kept in shape in the off-season by pushing his 2-year-old son, Nate, in his jogging stroller. "Everyone on this team knows the game and knows what his role is. It's just going to come down to what we have in the heart."
Date Opponent Time
Dec. 6 at Philadelphia 8 p.m.
Dec. 7 at Rhode Island 8 p.m.
Dec. 13 Philadelphia 8 p.m.
Dec. 20 Rhode Island 8 p.m.
Jan. 10 Philadelphia 8 p.m.
Jan. 18 at Worcester 8 p.m.
Jan. 19 at Rhode Island 8 p.m.
Jan. 24 Delaware 8 p.m.
Jan. 25 Wilmington, N.C. 8 p.m.
Jan. 31 Rhode Island 8 p.m.
Feb. 7 Wilmington, N.C. 8 p.m.
Feb. 21 Reading 8 p.m.
Feb. 22 Philadelphia 8 p.m.
All home games at Du Burns Arena
Pub Date: 12/06/96