Season over, Blast starts looking toward future

The Baltimore Sun

By Blast standards, it was a very bad season.

After three Major Indoor Soccer League championships in the previous four seasons, the team finished with a six-game losing streak on the heels of an eight-game winning streak and failed to make the four-team playoffs. The finale, a 21-6 beating by the Chicago Storm, was the team's worst defeat of the season.

Now, management turns its attention to 2007-08 while facing the latest expansion draft, the parameters of which have not been announced by the league.

"We have some tough decisions, some young guys we have to strongly consider protecting because they're good," coach Danny Kelly said.

A number of factors will enter the decisions on the protected list - players' abilities, ages, likelihood to bounce back from injuries, stages of development - for the May 10 draft, which will help stock new franchises in Orlando, Fla., Newark, N.J., and Monterrey, Mexico.

"We still don't know how many we can protect. Is it eight and a goalkeeper? Or seven and [a goalkeeper] or six and ... " president-general manager Kevin Healey said. "You only hear rumors."

Healey said it is almost certain the Blast will keep Adauto Neto, the 2005-06 league Most Valuable Player who sat out most of this season to safeguard against a re-injury of his shin.

A number of factors weighed into the team's collapse, including controversial officials' calls at crucial times in winnable games, injuries that kept playmakers like Neto, Giuliano Celenza and David Bascome out for most of the season, a late-season suspension of Jonathan Steele, and the absence of Lee Tschantret (red-card suspension) and Robbie Aristodemo (abdominal injury) for the last game.

"Missing two clutch goal scorers [Neto and Celenza] really hurt down the stretch," Kelly said. "Friday [in a 13-12 loss to Philadelphia after blowing an 8-0 lead], we got a suspect call and a little mistake turned into a big thing [a three-point KiXX goal]. It was just disappointing."

Still, all was not bleak. The team finished 15-15 and barely missed the postseason. And, attendance climbed by 443 a game to a league-leading 7,448 average.

"Our attendance was good and revenue strong," Healey said. "We're starting to get back to the numbers we used to have."

Individually, Machel Millwood and Denison Cabral tied for the team lead with 65 points each and goalie Sagu had the league's top save percentage (.733).

"We were able to overcome injuries through most of the season, but not at the end," Healey said. "We still felt like we should have won a game or two to get in. Our goal is always to win the championship."

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