For Baltimore Blast first-year coach David Bascome, a longtime assistant to former coach Danny Kelly, the team’s return to the field comes with a delicate balance.
For the past 15 seasons, the Blast were the most stable and successful professional indoor soccer franchise around — winners of six league titles and the runner-up in four other championship series.
But when the Blast opened practice earlier this month for the first time in nearly 18 months after their 2020-21 season was canceled, the 51-year-old Bermuda native began to put his own stamp on the team’s future.
“Being able to build confidence with the players is the first thing,” Bascome said. “To be able to get them to commit to change — because change has come — changing a climate, changing a culture. Taking the template that was built and enhancing that template, kind of filtering it. Culture shift was a need, getting players to connect.”
As the Blast prepare for the 2021-22 Major Arena Soccer League season — the 40th year of professional indoor soccer in Baltimore — the time they’ve put in together has been different. Training sessions include more classroom time and what is learned is executed in practice.
Postpractice meals are occasionally served with Bascome dishing out his homemade Cajun chicken with rice. For Tuesday practices, Blast fans are welcome to attend with a chance to talk to the players after their work is done.
It’s business, but with a family vibe.
“Now what’s happening is just like you loved the game before, but if I make it with a sustained culture, it’s like, ‘Wow, I want to come to work,’” Bascome said. “It’s not just about winning a championship. It’s about building a family and building relationships because it will show on the field when things get tough.”
When the Blast open their season Dec. 4, hosting the Florida Tropics at Towson University’s SECU Arena, fans will see many of their favorite players, including goalkeeper William Vanzela, forward Tony Donatelli and midfielder Jonatas Melo. The team welcomes the return of past standout forwards Lucas Roque and Max Ferdinand. And there are the usual local products in the mix with veteran defender Mike Deasel (Loyola Blakefield/Loyola Maryland), newcomers Alejandro Arbelaez (Archbishop Curley/UMBC) and Kelly’s son Keegan Kelly (McDonogh/Maryland). Adauto Neto, a fan favorite during his playing days, will serve as Bascome’s assistant.
Donatelli, a team captain, has been impressed with the energy and enthusiasm he has seen in the early training sessions.
“We’ve been champing at the bit to get back and you can see it in the play in the first week. We can’t wait for our first game,” he said. “You take it for granted sometimes and to have that time away, it really reinvigorates you. It gets you to find that passion we have for the game. You can see it in the play and the guys’ attitudes out here in practice and we hope to carry that over onto the field.”
Bascome is banking the change, in due time, will ultimately bring wins and continued success for the storied franchise. He’s also aware the team has a big responsibility to its loyal supporters.
“The fans need the continued enjoyment of the game, but I want to show them a different way of winning,” he said. “I want to show my players a different way — I want them to have flare and to be a family. I want them to see a bond. I want them to get to feel when a player runs on the field, they should feel the energy, they’re going to feel the players moving together, flowing together because the fans are part of our family.”
The veteran players have been asked to help bring along the newcomers and teach the accountability and the pride that comes with sporting the Blast logo. With the Blast not playing last season because of COVID-19 restrictions, Vanzela was loaned out to the San Diego Sockers, who went on to win the league championship. That made five championships in eight years for the native of Brazil, who now calls Baltimore home.
“It feels good to be here. At the end of the day, you’re playing professionally, but you play what you’ve dreamt as a kid. So I’m waking up and coming here doing what I did as a child and it’s a pleasurable time for me,” he said. “One of the things that [Bascome] wants to do is change the culture on and off the field and we — the experienced veterans — know that our responsibility is going to be huge. So to be a positive leader and to carry the younger players.
“I know that I have to change the way I’ve done things and help the guys stay grounded and be part of the family. Family fight, but family loves each other and, most important, family fights for each other.”
Towson University’s SECU Arena
Dec. 4, 6:05 p.m.