The Blast wrapped a training session last week with an intrasquad scrimmage that head coach Danny Kelly and assistant coach David Bascome considered lackluster.
The message to the players that followed, this time from Bascome, was loud, clear and familiar.
When you are part of the most successful professional indoor soccer team around — winners of three straight Major Arena Soccer League championships and six since Kelly began his tenure in 2006 — there are standards that have been established and a determination to maintain them. The Blast open their 2018-19 season Saturday when they host the expansion Mississauga MetroStars at Towson University’s SECU Arena at 6 p.m.
“When it’s time to work, there’s no excuses,” veteran midfielder and captain Tony Donatelli said. “They really pay attention to all the details and they let you know if you’re not doing it. You may not be feeling great that day, but you don’t get a pass. It’s great to have them hold us accountable and it makes us hold each other accountable.”
Kelly and Bascome met as teammates with the Harrisburg Heat in 1991, coming from entirely different places.
Kelly, 49, is a New York native who had an illustrious playing career at Penn State. Bascome, 48, is from Bermuda, where he started his professional career at age 16.
Kelly knew what he saw in Bascome as a player — hard work, a team-first approach and passion for the game — would translate into a coach and the two have been side by side on the Blast bench since the 2006-07 season.
While somewhat different in their coaching styles — Kelly is direct and no-nonsense, while Bascome is more of a sounding board to players — they have become complementary to one another. The team’s success speaks to that.
“I think we see the game similarly and we know what it takes to be successful in this game,” Kelly said. “We both won championships as players and I think, first and foremost, it starts with the right mentality, the willingness to work and prepare and to hold each other accountable — because that’s what we did as teammates.”
In most cases, those intrasquad scrimmages are played at a high level of intensity with expectations spilling over into games and leading to championships.
“Once you create the climate of accountability — you come here and give everything you’ve got — it all falls into place,” Bascome said. “We can’t play for the players, but we can create the culture so they can have an emotional and a social connection to the game. Once it’s connected, it creates the passion and drive. My role is to support the players in helping to create that emotional and social connection.”
Over the successful run, the Blast have lost a number of key players and been able to overcome the departures. This season, standout defender Pat Healey retired to become coach of the Heat and his father Kevin Healey, the Blast’s longtime general manger, joined him in Harrisburg as minority owner and team president.
Blast owner Ed Hale is confident in his coaching tandem after the departures.
“The thing I’ve never really had to worry about is the continuity of the coaching. They have kept their game up and they have worked together so well,” Hale said. “I won’t interfere. My only instructions are to put the best players on the field so we can win the game in front of us.”
With the majority of last year’s team returning — Donatelli and forward Vini Dantas sparking the offense, with goalkeeper William Vanzela and veteran defender Adriano Dos Santos leading the defense — the Blast plan to keep rolling.
“I think there’s a belief here that no matter what happens, we can give ourselves an opportunity to win games,” Kelly said. “And if you give yourself that opportunity, you give yourself an opportunity to get into the playoffs and an opportunity to compete for a championship. That’s our goal — give us that opportunity — and that’s what we stress every day in training.”
Blast 2018-19 schedule
(Home games in bold)
Sat. Dec. 1: Mississauga at Blast, 6 p.m.
Sun. Dec. 2: Blast at Utica, 2 p.m.
Sat. Dec. 8: Utica at Blast, 6 p.m.
Fri. Dec. 14: Blast at Orlando, 7:35 p.m.
Sun. Dec. 30: Blast at Utica, 2 p.m.
Fri. Jan. 4: Blast at Mississauga, 7:35 p.m.
Sat. Jan. 12: Harrisburg at Blast, 6 p.m.
Sat. Jan. 19: Harrisburg at Blast, 6 p.m.
Sun. Jan. 20: Mississauga at Blast, 2 p.m.
Sat. Jan. 26: Blast at Harrisburg, 7:05 p.m.
Sat. Feb. 2: Blast at Milwaukee, 2:05 p.m.
Fri. Feb. 8: Utica at Blast, 7:30 p.m.
Sun. Feb. 10: Harrisburg at Blast, 3 p.m.
Fri. Feb. 15: Blast at Mississauga, 7:35 p.m.
Fri. Feb. 22: Milwaukee at Blast, 7:30 p.m.
Sun. Feb. 24: Utica at Blast, 3 p.m.
Sun. March 3: Blast at Mississauga, 3:05 p.m.
Sun. March 10: Kansas City at Blast, 3 p.m.
Sun. March 17: Blast at Harrisburg, 5:05 p.m.
Fri. March 22: Orlando at Blast, 7:30 p.m.
Sun. March 24: Mississauga at Blast, 3 p.m.
Sat. March 30: Blast at Harrisburg, 7:05 p.m.
Sun. March 31: Blast at Utica, 2 p.m.