Just Wait Until Next Year, Talented Blast Team Says
By Krystina Lucido
When Blast players and fans envisioned the two-game Major Indoor Soccer League championship series against the Milwaukee Wave, they did not foresee the result that eventually developed.
But despite losing both games of the championship series, Baltimore's indoor soccer team is content with the knowledge that as a budding unit with a lot of new, inexperienced players, it had a solid season and made a complete run during the big game.
"Overall, I think we had a really good season," coach Danny Kelly said. "I knew it was going to be difficult with the amount of new guys coming into the squad. … I knew it was a process, but I always believed, at the end of the year, that we were going to be there, because of the quality of the group that we did have."
It was a group of enough quality that Kelly said he couldn't choose just one player he would have named the team MVP. The effort was by committee, but the seven-year coach knows talent when he sees it.
Midfielder Max Ferdinand, in his third year with the Blast, had a career season, grabbing the title for most assists in the league, with 25, as well as leading the team and ranking fourth in the league in scoring (72 points) to earn himself a spot on the All-MISL First Team. Ferdinand's stats not only showed his improvement on the field, but as a teammate as well.
"I thought he had an MVP-type season," Kelly said, "just with his ability to create something from nothing, and he was a big part of our success this year on the field. He's still young; he's still getting better, but he was a big part of our success.
"We expect a lot from him and he delivered -- just a tremendous player and a tremendous year."
Fellow First Team members Mike Lookingland and Sagu both earned league awards -- Defender of the Year and Goalkeeper of the Year, respectively. The Blast's 39-year-old, nine-year veteran goalkeeper, Sagu captured the league's points-against average champion honors by allowing an average of 9.61 points during 20 games. He has now been Goalkeeper of the Year three of the past four seasons, as well as a two-time MISL Goalkeeper of the Month in 2011-12.
Lookingland had an all-around solid season, not only ranking seventh in the league in blocks, with 30, but also scoring 34 points and dishing out eight assists.
"Mike Lookingland would also be in contention (for MVP)," Kelly said, "because being the captain, Defender of the Year, solidifying that group in the back for us, and also, especially early on, contributing on the offensive side of things."
Machel Millwood, who made the All-MISL Second Team, and Stephen DeRoux, who was awarded an MISL All-Rookie Team spot, were also on Kelly's list of candidates for a self-appointed MVP. But the coach stressed the importance of his team's all-around input, which led to championship contention.
With this same group, Kelly said he felt his team had a solid opportunity to contend next year. His rookies and new-to-indoor players now have some experience and playing time under their belt and the team chemistry is more solidly mixed.
"I think we'll be a better team next year on a whole," Kelly said. "If we have this same group back, I think we can definitely put ourselves in a position to contend for a championship again."
But, turnover is the nature of the sports business, and Kelly is already looking at starting 2012-13 without a key member of his squad.
Forward Carlos Garcia announced his retirement after nine years with the Blast. Not only did he bring camaraderie and experience, but his all-around performances on the field will be a big loss to the offensive line.
"Any time you lose that type of experience and a player of Carlos' caliber, he's one of the top forwards in the game," Kelly said. "He's versatile. He can play numerous positions. He brings that passion to the game. Obviously we're going to miss him."
It will be a tough loss, but one the team can overcome, as it did this year with a team full of new members, some of whom had never played indoor soccer.
"For me, it was a good year for us, even though we didn't win a championship," Kelly said. "Even though that's what we strive for every year here in Baltimore, I still think we had a good year, and look for more in the future from this group."
A vote by the MISL Board of Governors will bring more competition to the league next season.
The board voted March 27 to increase each MISL team's number of regular-season games from 24 to 26 during the 2012-13 season. Each MISL club will host 13 home games; the change adds two games for each team without increasing the length of the regular season, providing even more chances for fans to cheer on their teams in 2012-13.
Issue 172: April 2012