By Krystina LucidoIt wasn't too long ago a dejected Giuliano Celenza draped his head along the metal fencing on the green turf of 1st Mariner Arena. Celenza and the rest of the orange- and bright yellow-wearing Blast were anything but sunny after losing the 2010-11 MISL championship.
And though it was already written in stone Celenza would retire after the season's end, the Blast didn't realize they would be dealing with the loss of two other important veteran pieces to their squad.
Former captain Robbie Aristodemo and defender Billy Nelson both announced their retirement during the offseason. Aristodemo, a nine-year indoor soccer veteran, spent six seasons and three championships with the Blast and was the team's captain for two years. Nelson, who spent 10 seasons with the Blast, ranks fourth on the team's all-time blocks list.
Aristodemo moved to Florida, where he will coach varsity women's soccer and teach health at Montverde Academy in Orlando. Nelson plans to work for 1st Team Staffing as a recruiter and coach for local youth teams. Celenza is still undecided as to where he will be when a younger Blast team takes the field in November.
Celenza, who ranks fourth on the Blast's all-time scoring list with 424 points and was a member of five championship teams during his 11 seasons with the Blast, announced in early March he would leaving at the conclusion of the season.
"You hate losing experienced, veteran guys that have contributed to multiple championships, but that's just the nature of the business," coach Danny Kelly said. "They're not going to be around forever, and we got guys who have to step into bigger roles."
Kelly said he expected players such as Max Ferdinand, Matt Watson and Pat Healey to step up into leadership roles for the 2011-12 season. Though the coach has not decided on a formal captain, he said it's going to be leadership by committee.
"No matter who the captain is, it's not just one guy that leads the team," Kelly said. "Just because you're not wearing the captain's armband doesn't mean you can't be a leader. I'm expecting a number of people to step up and lead the team next year."
With a whole new slate of teams to compete against, the Blast will need leaders in the locker room. The MISL added three teams (bringing the total to eight) that will be split into Eastern and Central divisions.
The Blast, Norfolk SharX, Rochester Lancers and Syracuse Silver Knights will play in the Eastern, and a franchise in Chicago along with the Milwaukee Wave, Missouri Comets and Wichita Wings will make up the Central.
"The more teams, the better the league," Kelly said. "I think all the cities that have come in have a huge amount of potential for growth, growing the fan base there and having a successful franchise. I'm excited about the eight teams."
Invitationals for the Blast begin Oct. 19-21 and camp opens Oct. 24. The Blast's home opener will be Nov. 12 against the Silver Knights. With virtually a brand-new team entering the arena, the Blast prepare for a new season, one in which they hope to see a different image at the metal fence.
Ed Hale, owner of the Blast and founder of 1st Mariner Bank, announced in late April he was stepping down as chairman of Baltimore's bank. He still plans to remain on the board, just not at its head. This does not affect his Blast venture. As personal owner of the Blast, Hale will continue to run the team, at least for the foreseeable future.
More Front Row:
Henderson Guys: Backing The Line -- And Each Other
Long Bike Ride Unveils Unexpected Generosity
Burger Fans Rejoice: Gino's Giant Is Back
Some Old Faithfuls Depart Blast Roster
From The Cheap Seats
Issue 165: September 2011