Eller fuels 'engine room' for Blast

When a team is struggling to find its equilibrium the way the Blast has during its injury-filled season, it needs players in what forward David Bascome calls "the engine room."

The engine room is midfield. The men who play that position have to motor up and down the floor, playing defense, showing themselves to be available at midfield for an outlet or settling pass, setting up the offense and - when the occasion presents itself - finishing scoring chances of their own.


Allen Eller had been doing all those things quietly for the Blast. Quietly, that is, until the past two weeks, when he was given a starting position and made a little noise with three goals (including one overtime game-winner) and two assists in his past two games.

"Allen is a true role player," said Bascome, who also played with Eller in Harrisburg. "He does his job. He doesn't look for a lot of praise, and when it does come, he takes it and goes on with his job. Players like that are hard to find. And on a team like this, where there are a lot of talented players, players like Allen get hidden. But he's always there, giving 100 percent to the end."


Eller, 28, grew up just outside Cleveland in Mentor, Ohio, going to Cleveland Force games and hating Cleveland's most fierce rival - the Blast.

"I remember the Stamenkovics and Stankovics," he said. "I remember hating all the other MISL teams when they played the Force and later the Cleveland Crunch. I was drafted by Cleveland, but after two years there, I opened myself up to playing for any other MISL team who had a place where I could play."

The Blast had a place for Eller and made him part of a trade in January 2003. Since then, he has scored important goals in regular- and postseason play, played solid defense and silently worked his way into the heart of Blast coach Tim Wittman, who says Eller has to play "because of his work ethic."

Getting playing time on a team with so much offensive talent isn't easy. Initially this season, Eller got time while giving players such as Bascome, Giuliano Celenza, Lee Tschantret and P.J. Wakefield breathers. But that didn't always work.

Wittman had determined Eller needed additional playing time, and after the coach returned from hospitalization for kidney stones this month, he shifted Wakefield to defense and told Eller he was moving into the starting rotation.

"Allen's getting better all the time," Wittman said. "When he first came here, I told him I wanted him to be more aggressive, take people on. He said, 'I don't do that.' I said, 'Go try. It's OK to make mistakes. It's the only way to get to the next level.'

"He listens. He works hard and keeps his mouth shut for the most part. ... Even if I get all our other people back, he's got to play."

One of the injured might return for tonight's game in St. Louis. Defender Danny Kelly, who has been out with a knee injury, practiced with the team last week.


Eller said he believes Kelly's return will be a big help.

"Danny organizes our backs and midfield," Eller said. "He helps us keep five men behind the ball and he expects a lot from us and from himself."

The fact that Wittman also is expecting a lot from Eller has had a noticeable impact on Eller's game. Playing regular shifts has allowed him to get in the flow early. Knowing he is going to get a regular shift makes him more willing to try the things Wittman wants him to do. And knowing a mistake will not linger because the next shift, the next play is coming has helped his confidence.

"The last two games, taking regular shifts, it's so much easier to get in the flow," Eller said. "My job is to get the ball to our forwards and run up and down the field. I'm not worried about scoring. The more I get up and down the field, the more chances will come. If I get one or two good chances a game, I'll hope to put one of them away."

But if he doesn't, the Blast knows it can still count on Eller in the engine room.