The Baltimore Blast host the San Diego Sockers on Friday night at Royal Farms Arena in a game between two teams – and their owners – who are also in a front-office tug of war that could lead to the breakup of the newly expanded league.
Blast owner Ed Hale said Thursday that his team likely will exit the two-year-old Major Arena Soccer League at the end of this season if team owners do not approve a change in the structure of the league to a franchise system that separates the financial liability of each club. That proposal was voted down at a recent owners meeting.
Hale and Sockers owner Phil Salvagio were the major players in the merger that created the 20-team MASL that includes 18 clubs from throughout the United States and two from Mexico. They have been able to work out a number of lesser differences in the past, but Hale said they are at an impasse that might lead to the MASL splitting in two.
"He would win some, I would win some on different points, but we still tried to get everything together, and we did," Hale said. "Now, we have some tremendously fundamental differences in the structure of the league. They are very, very profound differences and that gap will never be bridged.
"Now, we have a situation where when the season is over, we'll have to determine what we're going to do."
The more Hale talked about the situation, the more certain he seemed that he would be withdrawing from the MASL at the end of the season and assembling a group of fellow MASL defectors and new franchises to form a separate league under a franchise system.
Salvagio, reached by phone after his team arrived in Baltimore on Thursday, seemed surprised by Hale's apparent ultimatum.
"I'm not aware of him pulling out," Salvagio said. "We're all working to one common goal. We all want to get to the franchise model, which we believe is the best model. We've made a lot of strides in the last two years and I think we're moving in the right direction."
There is a much longer history between these two teams. The Sockers and the Blast were rivals decades ago in an earlier incarnation of the ever-changing indoor sport and Hale enjoyed a friendly relationship and rivalry with then-Sockers owner Ron Fowler. Hale clearly has not warmed up to the owner of the current version of the San Diego team.
That, Hale said, creates an added level of intrigue for Friday night's game, which he projects will draw 8,000 fans.
"He's very much looking forward to playing us and beating us. … They beat us last year," Hale said. "We're looking forward to returning the favor."
So, it appears that the ambitious plan to rejuvenate indoor soccer on an international level might be short-lived.
"It was a merger of necessity, but I really don't like some of the owners in that league," Hale said. "I don't like some of the people there. I truly don't. I don't think they are good owners and, in some cases, I don't think they are good people.