Blast coach Tim Wittman and general manager Kevin Healey often rave when talking about forward Joel (pronounced Joe-el) Bailey's talents. His speed and overall quickness with the ball can cause defenders many problems.
Those talents are what kept Healey talking with Cleveland for several weeks before finally landing Bailey in a late-season trade last March.
Bailey has flourished this season under the Blast's wide-open system. Wittman pushes Bailey to take chances, a big reason the Trinidad native has already established a career high in points and matched his career best in goals - and the Blast still has 12 games left.
Bailey will celebrate his 26th birthday today and would love to get a few more goals when the Blast meets the Chicago Storm at 1st Mariner Arena tonight at 7:35. He didn't score more than nine goals or have more than 13 points in either of his first two seasons, but he already has nine goals and five assists for 14 points this year.
Healey and Wittman both like watching how Bailey is using his strengths to grow into a true offensive threat. Bailey started slowly with only two points in the first seven games, but has posted seven goals and five assists in the last 11. He scored two goals in the Blast's last game, an 8-4 win over Philadelphia nine days ago.
Wittman said he's simply telling Bailey not to be hesitant in using his abilities, specifically his quickness and speed. The Blast (12-6) stands in third place, battling St. Louis (14-4) and Milwaukee (13-5) for first, and Bailey blossoming on offense would prove helpful.
"I think he's more coming around to his potential," Wittman said. "Maybe it takes the right team, the right situation. In Cleveland, they didn't let him express himself. I want players to express themselves. I've given him the freedom to do that."
Bailey and Wittman both think the forward suffered some because Cleveland - which isn't in the league this year - used a tighter system that emphasized less freedom.
"I like to attack, and that's all I know," Bailey said. "That's the only way I know how to play. Timmy allows me to do whatever I need to do to try and get things done. It takes a whole lot of pressure off of me."
Bailey is tied for second on the team with two game-winning goals and has showed few ill effects from a groin problem that hampered him last year or from missing about half of preseason camp due to visa problems.
In addition, he said that playing in a looser system lets him feel more at ease to use his skills and makes the game fun.
"The thing is when you're able to play freely, you don't really have to think about [consequences of mistakes]," Bailey said. "It's just like playing in your backyard. You just do what you do and that's it."
The Blast was hoping for this result when it acquired Bailey from Cleveland with Sipho Sibiya for Neil Gilbert and Allen Eller. Bailey scored one goal in four games before the Blast shut him down for the final four games last season because of the nagging groin problems.
Bailey played some outdoor soccer with Montreal of the A-League last summer, but used caution to let the groin heal. He's still getting used to the indoor game after being an NCAA Division II All-American three times at Wheeling Jesuit University, but after struggling during two years in Cleveland, he has truly begun to take off this season.
"I think that Tim did a good job of continuing to reinforce with him that we were sticking with him, and that we believed he was a very good player," Healey said. "Right now, he's a very dangerous player for us. That's what we saw before we made the trade."