Blast kicks off season in new league with similar expectations

The Blast will play in the brand new Major Arena Soccer League this season.

The MASL features 23 teams competing in four divisions across North America, more than three times the size of the seven-team Major Indoor Soccer League that folded at the end of last season.


The Blast also has new faces, new uniforms and the old place where the team plays downtown has a new name, Royal Farms Arena.

During a training session last week, veteran defender and first-year captain Pat Healey shrugged off all the newness. The most important thing hasn't changed for the Blast, which opens the season at 7:35 p.m. Saturday against the visiting Syracuse Silver Knights.


"The approach is the same and that's to win the championship," Healey said. "That never changes."

Still, there's added excitement as the Blast is set to begin the 34th professional indoor soccer season in Baltimore.

The new league brings more competition and past rivals such as the San Diego Sockers, Dallas Sidekicks and Harrisburg Heat. And the departure of a number of veteran players — most notably retired standout defender Mike Lookingland — created more open roster spots than usual.

"Normally, out of the 20 roster spots we've had 17 or 18 spots already filled and we're just looking for a couple to be filled," Blast coach Danny Kelly said. "But this year, we [had] more spots and there's excitement from players that are coming in who realize they have a shot to make the team. ... [That] really ramped up the competition in training camp. As a coach, that's what you always want."

Quality team defense has long been the trademark of the Blast's, which lost to the Missouri Comets in last year's MISL championship series, and Kelly plans to keep it that way despite losing three defenders from last year's team.

Healey and Mike Deasel are the lone returnees from last season's defense, with goalie William Vanzela back in the net after a breakout season. Veteran Adriano Dos Santos will move to the back after playing forward and the Blast will rely on newcomers such as Onua Obasi.

Kelly said the preseason included more scrimmage time to put the new players in situations they will regularly see in games.

"We got our work cut out for us and a lot of that comes down to myself and [assistant coach] David Bascome trying to bring the new guys up to speed as quickly as we can," Kelly said. "I expect some growing pains with the group, but ultimately the players we brought in … I'm expecting them to adapt quickly because that's what we'll need to be successful."


On offense, the Blast brings back most of last year's talent, with Max Ferdinand and Lucio Gonzaga anchoring the midfield and Tony Donatelli, Lucas Roque and Adauto Neto scoring threats at forward. Jonatas Melo is a newcomer to watch in the middle.

Since Ed Hale Sr. purchased the franchise in 1998, the Blast has played in the National Professional Soccer League, the National Indoor Soccer League and the second and third versions of the Major Indoor Soccer League. Hale believes the new MASL, a combination of teams from last year's MISL and the Professional Arena Soccer League, will bring stability to professional indoor soccer.

The league has reached an agreement with ESPN to broadcast games on, an online service also known as ESPN3.

Hale, who is MASL's Chairman of the Board, said that wouldn't have been possible in the smaller MISL.

"Right now, we have enough size and numbers that we should be able to withstand many things," he said. "Because of the size, we already have the [ESPN3] deal, which is a good beginning, and I believe more teams from other cities with properly-sized arenas will want to come in with us."