Baltimore Blast transform the SECU Arena at Towson University. (Courtesy video)
The Blast begin a new era when they open their 2017-18 Major Arena Soccer League season Friday night against the Cedar Rapids Rampage at their new home, Towson University's SECU Arena.
The two-time defending league champions, who left Royal Farms Arena after 37 years, are all in on one concept: Smaller will be better.
On their new home field, the Blast are sacrificing 50 feet of length, going from 200 to 150. The spacious but outdated downtown arena had a capacity of 10,500 for Blast games, while the new place holds up to 3,800.
The team's sales pitch is that the smaller confines will offer more action and a more intimate setting with better sightlines, sound, lighting and graphics.
The Blast believe five-year-old SECU Arena will be rocking, starting with Friday night's 7:35 start against the Rampage.
"We think it's going to be an exciting atmosphere," Blast captain Tony Donatelli said. "It's going to be loud and the fans are going to be right on top of us. So it's something we're looking forward to and we're excited to get out there to see what it's actually going to be like."
The Blast have close to their entire nucleus back from last year's championship team and are adamant they will play the same style that has brought so much success, one that focuses on responsible defense and possessing the ball. It just won't be as easy in tighter quarters. Touches will have to be more precise and decisions made quicker, and there's no denying more goals will be scored.
The Blast, with an experienced group led by forwards Donatelli and Vini Dantas, defenders Pat Healey (Towson University, Calvert Hall) and Adriano Dos Santos and goalkeeper William Vanzela, have long proved to be resilient and up for any challenge.
Blast players during practice on Thursday at the SECU Arena. (Glenn Graham / Baltimore Sun video)
They know they can win on a smaller field having clinched the past two league titles at Soles de Sonora, which has a home field with similar dimensions to SECU. They are also comforted that the width of the new field is the same 60 feet as Royal Farms.
"I don't see us changing the way we play," Blast coach Danny Kelly said. "I think we'll have to make some adjustments based on less time and less space than what we're normally used to. But we've won championships the last two years playing on that type of field, so we've been successful on a smaller field."
In goal, Vanzela, also a captain and the team's emotional leader, knows he'll be considerably busier with even more responsibility. In the 2016-17 regular season, he went 14-6 with 243 saves and a 3.34 goals against average. In the championship series at Sonora, he made 14 saves as the Blast won the second game, 9-8, and was sensational in the clinching 15-minute minigame that followed, a 1-0 win.
We think it’s going to be an exciting atmosphere It’s going to be loud and the fans are going to be right on top of us.
Blast captain Tony Donatelli on the move from Royal Farms Arena to SECU Arena
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He says he's prepared, physically and mentally, for more shots and the likelihood of allowing more goals in the team's new home.
"I know my teammates will do a good job in front of me to control the opponents, but the reality is they can't stop it all," he said. "So I expect more action. … The pressure is going to be higher and definitely demand me to pay close attention to details. It's a good thing for me. You want to be part of the game, important for your team. I know my role on the team and how much the players look up to me, so I want to respond well in every single situation."
But every move has skeptics, and there are many who will miss the downtown arena.
The team arrived to Baltimore in 1980 at the then-Civic Center in the original Major Indoor Soccer League and had an announced average attendance of 11,189 in its first championship season in 1983-84.
Last season at Royal Farms Arena, the Blast claimed Baltimore's ninth championship and averaged an announced 6,299.
"I'm a Baltimore guy and an Orioles fan, and when we moved from Memorial Stadium I cried, because that was our place. Then we got to Camden Yards and realized what a beautiful new park we had," Blast president and general manager Kevin Healey said. "We're really proud – 37 years in the same city and same building — and we created a lot of history there. Some people are going to be sad about that and we understand, but it was time to move forward and get into an arena that we think is going to be a lot of fun to watch games in."
Increased ticket costs (parking is included) and the inconvenience of traveling to Towson were two of the other major concerns for some fans.
Healey called each of the 500-plus season-ticket holders (he was unable to reach all of them because of outdated phone numbers) and pleaded with them to give the new place a try. The team also had a fan day at SECU in early October to check out the new digs. He said some season-ticket holders did not renew, but new ones came aboard to give the team about the same amount as last year.
Longtime season-ticket holder Robert Wiseman wasn't happy to hear the Blast were moving to Towson.
The Glen Burnie resident has been a season-ticket holder since the 1984-85 season, and attending Blast games have been a staple for him, his wife and two teenage daughters for years.
The thought of driving twice as long and dealing with Beltway traffic originally turned him off. But after Healey reached out and the family went to the fan day, he couldn't pass up four seats in the front row in the middle of the field.
Wiseman's tab for four season tickets (a guarantee of 11 regular-season games, plus a potential three playoff games and parking) came to $2,562.39. He said it was more costly than last season, but still considerably more reasonable than taking in an Orioles or Ravens game.
He's still unsure exactly where he's designated to park, had concerns about the limited bathrooms and isn't sold on the home team playing on the smaller field. But the Wiseman family is heading to Towson on Friday with an open mind.
"It's one of the few things we still do as a family," he said. "We weren't happy about the move to SECU, but we're going to give it a chance because we love indoor soccer and where else are you going to see it?"
After 37 years of professional indoor soccer in the downtown arena now called Royal Farms Arena, the Blast have moved to Towson University's SECU Arena for the 2017-18 Major Arena Soccer League season. They open the season Friday night against the Cedar Rapids Rampage with game time set for 7:35 p.m. Here's a look at some of the comparisons between Royal Farms and SECU:
ROYAL FARMS ARENA
Seating capacity: 10,500
Field dimensions (by feet): 200 x 85
*Single-game ticket price range:$16-$40
16 oz. draft beer: $9.75
Pepsi soda products: $5
Seating capacity: 3,800
Field dimensions (by feet): 150 x 85
*Single-game ticket price range: $23-$50
16 oz. draft beer: $7.50
Pepsi soda products: $4.50
*Ticket cost at SECU Arena also includes parking; $35, $40 and $50 tickets are club, second and first-row seats, respectively, and include waiter service.