Four years into a successful professional indoor soccer career with the Baltimore Blast, Mike Deasel walked away to pursue his dream.
Despite his early success -- four Major Arena Soccer League championship appearances in four years -- the defender always made sure to plan for life after sports.
In 2015, after a ride-along with the Baltimore County Fire Department, he found his calling: firefighting.
"I fell in love with it," Deasel said, "especially the whole team aspect … and working together with everybody. To me it translated -- soccer translated to the fire department."
Deasel had played soccer his whole life. A Kingsville, Md., native and four-year letter winner at Loyola Blakefield, he went on to start 72 games as a defensive midfielder in four seasons at Loyola Maryland before signing with the Blast in 2011, a team he had watched play during his youth.
In the fall of 2015, Deasel endured five months of intense fire academy training, learning everything from emergency medical care to extinguishing simulated fires. He's now more than three years in as a full-time firefighter and works at Station 7 in Essex, Md.
"Pretty early on I knew that was something that meant a lot to him and something that he wanted to reach out to and pursue," said Blast forward Tony Donatelli, Deasel's best friend on the team. "We all come up in different circumstances and different backgrounds, but to be able to put your life on the line for the better of the people is something that can't be overstated. It takes a special person to be able to do it."
For Deasel, 29, the parallels between playing soccer and being a fireman are endless. Like a championship-winning indoor team, the firefighters of Station 7 are well-trained and prepared for almost anything. When they arrive on the scene of a fire, each person has a role. One holds the nozzle, another handles the hose while others force open a door or window to direct the water at the blaze.
Much like a defender calling out a defensive assignment to a teammate, Deasel and his fellow firefighters must communicate constantly, he said, adapting to sudden changes, like a spreading fire or an opposing player cutting through the defense.
"Everybody knows what you're doing before you even go on the call. Same as in the game where you have the game plan," Deasel said. "Then if something goes wrong, because not every call and not every game are the same, you're going to have to adapt ... and figure it out together."
Deasel's ability to take to firefighting so naturally was no surprise to Blast head coach Danny Kelly because who Deasel is as a soccer player is exactly what a fireman is supposed to be.
"If Mike's anything, he's a great teammate," he said. "You know you can count on him on the field. Off the field, he was the type of guy who would help you out in any situation. So, being a firefighter and knowing how they rely on each other -- their lives depend on each other -- so it makes total sense that Mike would pursue that career."
But even as Deasel settled into his new career, the itch to play professional soccer didn't go away, he said. With the blessing of the fire department, Deasel was allowed to sign a contract in the summer of 2017 to return to the Blast while staying on as a full-time fireman.
Deasel credited his fellow firefighters for taking shifts for him when needed. That allowed him to return to the sport he loved.
"That's really the main reason I was able to come back," he said, "or else really I wouldn't be able to play anymore."
Deasel makes it clear that doing two full-time jobs doesn't bother him. His schedule can sound daunting at times, often going straight from soccer practice to the gym for a quick workout before heading to a night shift at the fire department that doesn't let out until 6 a.m.
"Honestly I really do love doing both so I don't mind at all," he said. "It's something that I wanted to do."
Deasel's comeback was delayed by several months, however, when he tore his ACL during an indoor co-ed game. He was finally cleared in January 2018 and suited up for the final four games of the regular season and the playoffs, helping the Blast win a third straight MASL title last March.
"He was a critical piece," Kelly said. "To be able to add a steady defender at that time was huge for us."
As the regular season winds down, Deasel said he's fully back in soccer shape and has managed his firefighting and soccer duties well enough to be ready for another championship push.
Donatelli is just glad to have his friend back, not only because of his defensive prowess but also for his humor and the pranks he's known to play.
"It's infectious," Donatelli said. "That's something that, more so than Xs and Os or what he's done on the field, is just what he brings around the team in the locker room and makes such a huge difference."
Photo Credit: Sabina Moran
Issue 252: March 2019
Originally published March 15, 2019