Blast signs Gutierrez to bolster its attack


The Blast added another proven commodity yesterday, signing veteran midfielder Henry Gutierrez after freeing salary-cap money to make the transaction fit.

To make room for Gutierrez, veteran defender Doug Neely accepted a pay cut and, said Blast coach/general manager Kevin Healey, defender Derrick Marcano will be placed on the injury list because of knee surgery next week. He could be out for the season.

Neely, like most other players without guaranteed contracts, took a pay cut before the season, when the new Major Indoor Soccer League arrived with a salary cap - $300,000 for the Blast (the league doesn't disclose individual players' salaries).

Asked Tuesday to take a second cut, Neely - a reliable defender and locker-room favorite - did not practice yesterday afternoon but decided later in the day to stay on.

"It just shows a great commitment to our team," Healey said. "For someone to take a reduction, you know where his heart is, and that's helping this team win a championship."

The Blast selected Gutierrez, 33, in the A-League draft last summer. Officially, he's on loan from his outdoor team, the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, for the rest of the season.

A three-time All-American at North Carolina State and holder of two caps for international appearances with the U.S. national team, Gutierrez brings a wealth of pro soccer experience.

He spent four seasons in Major League Soccer, starting in 1996, playing first with the San Jose Clash before moving on to Miami, where he was the Fusion's 1999 Most Valuable Player after leading the team in scoring with six goals and 14 assists.

All his prior indoor experience was with the Cleveland Crunch - a three-year stint in the mid-1990s before returning last season for five games. Gutierrez was named National Professional Soccer League Rookie of the Year in 1994-95 after finishing with 114 points, and he played a big part in the Crunch's championship season the following year.

The Crunch relinquished rights to him after last season, which enabled the Blast to select him with its fifth pick in the annual draft that gives MISL teams rights to free agents in the A-League, pro soccer's top minor league.

"He brings several things to us," Healey said. "One, he has tremendous ability, and his background tells you that he's an excellent soccer player. And second, he has good indoor experience with Cleveland, having played on a championship team there.

"When he was still available at our pick," the coach said, "I was very, very happy, and picking him up later in the season obviously doesn't hit us as hard with the salary cap."

Gutierrez finished his first season with the Riverhounds in October and was home in Florida, working at a golf club, when Healey called him in late December.

"I'm a guy who possesses the ball quite a bit, likes to get everyone involved, and can bring some composure and calmness to the game," said Gutierrez, who can play midfield or be a target at forward. "This is a great fit. It's not like you're going to a team of young guys and have to try to be the superstar. Everybody here has one main goal, and that's winning a championship, and I'm just a player trying to add to what they got."

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