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Stingy goalie Vanzela is foundation of Blast's success

William Vanzela -- the MASL's best goalkeeper -- is hungry to win another championship with the Blast.

Getting scored on is a touchy subject for Blast goalkeeper William Vanzela.

The Brazilian has a cheery disposition, now clearly expressed in fluent English after three years in Baltimore, until he talks about the dreadful walk. During the brief but animated trek, he throws a fit with a disgusted scowl.

"I hate myself when I have to go get the ball from the back of the net. I'm not doing my job when someone scores," said Vanzela, who will turn 30 on March 1. "The other guys say: 'Are you crazy?, it's impossible to save every one.' I know that, but I just don't like the idea."

Most shots have stayed in front of Vanzela this season.

The Blast (14-2) has clinched first place in the Major Arena Soccer League's Eastern Division as it prepares for its final two home games of the regular season this weekend, starting with Friday's game against the Chicago Mustangs set for 7:35 p.m. at Royal Farms Arena.

Vanzela's stellar play has been the foundation.

In going 13-2 this season, the goalie has logged more than 895 minutes and surrendered just 45 goals while making 192 saves. That gives him a 3.02 goals against average and .810 save percentage — both decidely tops among goalkeepers in the 23-team league. Shutouts are rare in fast-paced indoor soccer, but Vanzela has three this season.

When Blast coach Danny Kelly gives an assessment of Vanzela's strengths, it comes in a rapid-fire sequence: fantastic saves, unbelievable positioning, gifted feet that make him like another field player and very good distribution.

"But for me, the most important things William brings [are] his energy and his emotion to the game," Kelly continues. "He gets us going, he knows what it takes to win championships and he very desperately wants to get us back there. For me, that's his most important attribute — the emotion and passion he brings to our team."

A dual citizen of Brazil and Italy, Vanzela came to the Blast in 2012 with an impressive professional background. He was the starter for winning Italy in the 2011 Futsal World Cup and named the tournament's best goalkeeper.

The early obstacles he dealt with when he first came to the Blast — most notably the side boards that are unique in the professional indoor game here, and not speaking English — were quickly cleared by hard work.

On the field, his superior skills and instincts helped him quickly adjust to the pinball-like bounces. To learn the language, he read books and newspapers, asked his fellow Brazilian Blast teammates for help and wasn't afraid to ask questions about words he wasn't familiar with.

Communication is vital to his position and he is now so comfortable with English, Kelly named him a co-captain this season.

"Coming from another country to a place where you aren't familiar with the language, you kind of hesitate doing what you're used to doing," said veteran Blast forward Adauto Neto, also a native of Brazil. "But after that first year, William came a long way with his English. I think he learned very fast and that's all about his dedication. ... Just seeing his work rate with everything, and it's not just when he's playing — even when he's coaching kids or doing things like that — you can always see he gives everything he has. That's something everybody can learn from."

As a rookie, Vanzela was named the Most Valuable Player of the Major Indoor Soccer League playoffs as he led the Blast to the franchise's seventh championship. Last season, he was named the league's Goalkeeper of the Year as the Blast reached the championship series but lost to the Missouri Comets.

With his unique talent and the passion he displays on the field, Vanzela has become a fan favorite and face of the Blast franchise.

Vanzela also shares his soccer knowledge during the offseason.

He's an assistant high school coach under former Blast player Lee Tschantret at Loyola Blakefield, which won the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference soccer championship in the fall. Venzela also coaches a youth girls soccer team and runs goalkeeping clinics and Blast summer camps.

After spending six years in Italy, he's used to the bitter cold that's been around this winter. And while he hears everybody talking about the crabs here, he'll still take a good steak — a favorite in Brazil — or hit Little Italy for a good meal.

Right now, he's hungry for another championship.

"We already have our spot in the playoffs, so we have four more games to prepare ourselves the best we can to be ready," he said. "I'm really excited. Hopefully, we'll see a lot of people in the arena supporting us, helping us get into the championship, and then we'll see."

glenn.graham@baltsun.com

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