During the 2016-17 Major Arena Soccer League season, first-year owner Carl Delmont along with rookie head coach and former Baltimore Blast player Denison Cabral re-energized the struggling Harrisburg Heat franchise. They finished within one game of making the playoffs after the team went 1-18 during 2015-16 season.
Delmont won MASL Owner of the Year, and Cabral took home MASL Coach of the Year honors.
Now, they are extending their passion for soccer to the youth game. On June 1, they will again join forces to lead the Baltimore Celtics Youth Soccer Club, one of the most successful in the nation, with an emphasis on skills development and learning to play soccer the right way.
"I don't care if we win or lose," said Delmont, who is also CEO of Freedmont Mortgage. "I want players to know the basic skills and develop their soccer IQ. We'll have college players, pro players and Division I coaches -- great soccer people -- bringing their soccer knowledge. We are excited to partner with the best soccer talent in Maryland and Pennsylvania."
As president and owner of the Baltimore Celtics, Delmont's vision will call for a "macro-view" of managing soccer clubs in the region. He plans to create Celtic "hubs" in Anne Arundel, Harford and Carroll counties, as well as in the Hanover and York areas of southern Pennsylvania. These hubs will be called Celtic North (Harford County), Celtic South (Anne Arundel County), Celtic West (Carroll County) and Celtic PA. He expects the number of teams to grow from 24 to 40 in the next few years.
"I'm looking for smart growth," he said. "There are some great clubs out there, but there is too much competition, and kids are falling out of the system. We're looking to work with existing clubs -- if they need fields, coaches or training -- they can be part of the Celtics. We're looking to develop kids at a young age to learn to play soccer the right way, and that's why I chose Denison Cabral."
Cabral will become coach and head futsal director. Winner of eight indoor soccer championships and two MVPs, he is the leading scorer in Baltimore Blast history and director of the Baltimore Futsal Academy. He signed his first pro contract when he was 14 and playing futsal -- a version of soccer played indoors on a hard court that is smaller than a regular football pitch -- in Brazil. He is looking forward to working with kids and sharing his passion for the game.
"You name them, every great player -- Ronaldinho, Neymar, Messi -- they've all kicked a futsal ball," Cabral said. "I know the benefits of futsal and its importance to the development of technical skills and finesse with the ball. I trained with the best futsal coaches in the world. I love teaching the little ones to get comfortable and confident with the ball."
The commitment to youth is also important to Delmont, who became fascinated with soccer at a young age. He grew up in Red Bank, N.J., watching Leeds United square off against Newcastle on snowy UHF channels with his friend. He attended Shepherd University in West Virginia and formed the first soccer club with a professor there; the university now has an intercollegiate team. After college, Delmont moved to Baltimore and attended his first Blast game in the 1980s.
"I thought it was the greatest thing I'd ever seen," he said, and he began playing indoor soccer.
Delmont later joined the Blast board, and it was there he started sharing ideas with owner Ed Hale. The opportunity arose to purchase the Heat in the summer of 2016. He did some "soul searching," as he puts it, and decided to take a shot at owning a soccer team.
"We started out saying to each other, ‘We don't know what we don't know,'" Delmont said. "How can we improve? I've worked with some great people for the last 20 years in the mortgage business and was able to put a talented front office together."
One of the best moments of the magical Heat season for Delmont came from a fan.
"You created the same atmosphere I remembered as a kid," the fan said to Delmont. "Now I get to share that with my kids. Thanks for allowing me to recapture that."
Delmont's goal is to bring the same energy to the Baltimore Celtics.