No pain would be big gain for Blast


Even if you knew nothing about the Blast's injury-filled season, it doesn't take more than a few minutes to know how bad the just-completed Major Indoor Soccer League season was for the two-time champion.

"It's been very frustrating with the amount of injuries we've had," said Blast coach Tim Wittman, who will return next season. "It's up to Ed [Hale, the owner] - he pays the bills - but I don't want to bring anyone into camp who is injured. They're going to have to be healthy before they get here. They're going to have to be ready to play and want to play."

During the season, in which the Blast went 15-24, there was an unusually high incidence of injury. In 39 games, 16 of 26 field players lost 166 games to injury. Three of them - starters Denison Cabral, Carlos Garcia and Adilson De Lima - underwent knee surgeries and played a combined 18 games at the beginning of the season.

The team's leading scorer, Chile Farias, lied and practiced with a Major League Soccer team, which is against MISL rules, and veteran defender Neil Gilbert failed to show up for a game in Cleveland. Both were traded, as Hale said he would not have players on his roster who didn't want to play for the Blast.

Wittman and assistant coach Max Thompson also were hospitalized during the season.

"The theme for everyone this season is that no one - not Tim or Kevin [Healey, general manager] or me or anyone else associated with this team - wants to go out like this," Hale said. "The injury component was just too much. I think it hit me when Denison and Carlos both went out in one game.

"At that point I said to myself, 'That's not good.' There is a lot of parity in the league, and I knew something like that could tip the balance. We lost a lot of games by one or two goals that those players would have impacted."

Hale said trading his team's talented leading scorer, Farias, also affected the Blast's talent level, but said he is eager to see new additions Joel Bailey and Mike Apple playing at full speed.

As the season ended Sunday, as many as four more players - Joel Bailey (groin), Giuliano Celenza (ankle), David Bascome (knee and shoulder) and team captain Tarik Walker (ankle) - faced possible operations.

"I hope the players who need operations get them soon," Wittman said. "I don't want anyone coming to camp at 70 percent the way some players did last season. They take up a spot on the roster and it stops us from doing the work we need to do and the cohesiveness we need to develop."

Because it was a season the organization would like to put behind it, the developing fine play of goalie Brian Rowland and rookie Machel Millwood was nearly lost in the fray. Rowland, playing in his first full season, was much better than expected, and Millwood showed with his speed and skill he could be an impact player in his first indoor season before joining the list of the injured.

Goalie Sagu also played better as the season wore on, and Healey said his team's goaltending is set unless Dallas returns to the league. If that happens, Sagu must be returned to the Sidekicks, who continue to hold his playing rights.

As Healey pondered the evaluations and choices ahead of him, he said one thing is clear.

"Our next couple of decisions have to be good ones," he said. "We didn't put our championship teams together with luck. We have to evaluate the talent and determine who will play well together."

Healey said he is aware the Blast had trouble competing with quick teams like Chicago and Kansas City and he will be looking to add speed. He got some of that in the addition of Bailey, but the former Cleveland player was injured before he came to Baltimore and played in just two games before getting hurt.

The team had a similar misfortune on the goal-scoring front after acquiring Apple, St. Louis' leading scorer. The usually healthy forward was no sooner in a Blast uniform before twisting his ankle. Then, just as he was beginning to score again, he suffered a quadriceps strain.

"We made trades for four people we thought could help us last season," Healey said. "It was late in the year, but in baseball teams make trades Sept. 1, looking for late-season help. How a trade impacts your team often depends on what happens right after. We could have gotten on a little roll, but it didn't happen. But each of those players is talented and helped us."

Healey and Wittman said they will look at game tapes and review every player before deciding whom they want back. Then they will consider how those players might mesh with new additions.

"If Cleveland doesn't find a new majority owner and come back next season there will be a dispersal draft and we'll have to evaluate their personnel," Healey said. "There will also be an expansion draft [for the new team in Stockton, Calif.], and we don't know who we will lose there."

And, added Wittman, management doesn't know right now who might decide to retire.

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