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Blast, Major Arena Soccer League ‘trying to think outside the box’ for pandemic-modified season

The Blast are planning for the start of the 40th straight season of professional indoor soccer in Baltimore.

The hometown team is one of 11 in the Major Arena Soccer League set to proceed with a modified 2020-21 regular-season schedule, the league announced this week after a vote from its board of directors.

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Because of the coronavirus pandemic, local and state regulations will be determining factors in start dates, arena capacity and the number of games that can be played. While the league announced the season could start as early as Dec. 31 for some teams, Blast owner Ed Hale Sr. considers February a more likely start time for his team to play at Towson University’s SECU Arena.

While Hale said safety comes first and all plans are subject to what the state and Towson dictates, he thinks it’s vital for the Blast to get back in action when it’s deemed possible. Last season, MASL play was halted just before the playoffs in March.

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“It’s very important this year more than any other time because this is one of those opportunities when people are looking for something to do and they want to go to sporting events. We’re trying to give some sense of normalcy,” Hale said. “It could be very easy for us to just say we’re going to take a pause like some of the teams and come back next year. But I just don’t want to lose a year. I think if you lose a year, it may be very difficult to get your fans back, so we’re going to do the best we can to do it.”

Dallas, Florida, Harrisburg, Kansas City, Ontario, Rochester, San Diego, St. Louis, Tacoma and Utica have also committed to playing this season. Milwaukee, Monterrey, Sonora, Mesquite and Turlock have opted out because of local restrictions related to the pandemic.

The league plan is to have the participating teams play between 12 and 24 regular-season games through April 18 to be considered eligible for postseason play. With the likelihood of teams playing an unbalanced number of games, standings will be based on winning percentage and a playoff format will be announced at a later date.

Hale hopes the Blast can play the maximum 24 games — 12 at home and 12 on the road — and is even considering the idea of having the team play outside later in the season when the weather gets warmer.

“We’re trying to think outside the box. Necessity is the mother of invention and, I’m not kidding, we’re doing whatever we can to think through this and see how we can make this work,” he said.

Blast star goalie William Vanzela said he and his teammates are doing their best to be ready should the season take place.

“It’s hard for us to begin our training because you don’t want to push too hard and not have anything, but you also don’t want to take it too easy and not be ready for a start,” he said. “So we’re hoping to have a season and we’re trying our best to get in shape to be prepared for a season if it happens. I’m sure they’re thinking about our safety and the fans safety and all of that, so we’re waiting to see what’s going to happen.”

On Saturday, Vanzela will represent the Blast in the first-ever MASL All-Star Game to officially kick of the season. The game — featuring top players from the East and West teams — will be hosted by the Kansas City Comets at Cable Dahmer Arena in Independence, Missouri. Game time is set for 8 p.m., and is available to stream for $15 at facebook.com/MASLsoccer. Former Blast favorites Vini Dantas and Elton de Oliveira will join Vanzela on the East roster.

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