By Staci Wolfson
As the Baltimore Blast prepare to begin their season Friday night against the defending champion Philadelphia Kixx, players will also be getting ready for a season against a league with a new look. In its seventh season, the Major Indoor Soccer League has added three new teams in Monterrey (Mexico), Newark, N.J., and Orlando, Fla.
Blast goalkeeper Sugu blocks a shot from a Chicago Storm player last season.
The growing MISL also agreed to a two-year broadcasting deal with the Fox Soccer Channel. Beginning with the Blast’s matchup against La Raza de Monterrey, 20 Friday night games will be broadcast this season.
But how will the Blast stack up? Take a look around the league.
La Raza de Monterrey
After stints with the Continental Indoor Soccer League and the World Indoor Soccer League, the Monterrey franchise was reformed in July to join the MISL. The 2000 WISL champion will play at Arena Monterrey in Nuevo Leon, Mexico.
Erich Geyer will coach La Raza, and Genoni Martinez, four-time MISL Defender of the Year and the first player named on the roster, will lead the team. Martinez finished sixth in the league last year with 73 points for Philadelphia. Monterrey chose Blast forward Patrick Shamu with the 19th overall pick in the expansion draft.
The Blast first face La Raza at First Mariner Arena Nov. 16.
The 2005-2006 season was the Cougars’ first in the MISL. They finished sixth in the league in their first year and struggled again last season, going 7-23. Forwards Enrique Tovar and Vicente Figueroa led the Cougars with 63 and 60 points, respectively, but Figueroa could be out for the entire season after suffering a torn ACL and meniscus in his right knee.
Bernie Lilavois is leading the Cougars after taking over from Troy Dayak, who was fired after California’s 5-13 start last season.
The Blast will host the Cougars Dec. 1.
New Jersey Ironmen
Two-time MISL Coach of the Year Omid Namazi will lead the fledgling Ironmen, who will play at the Prudential Center, home of the NHL New Jersey Devils. When New Jersey plays the first home game of the year, former New York Cosmo Pele will serve as honorary captain.
The Blast got a taste of what the Ironmen had to offer when the team visited Du Burns Arena for a preseason tournament. New Jersey tied Philadelphia, 4-4, but lost to the Blast, 10-4. The Blast won’t see the Ironmen again until Jan. 4 at First Mariner Arena.
In each of its three seasons in the MISL, Chicago has improved. Last year, the Storm finished 17-13, second in the league, under coach Steve Morris. They lost in the semifinals, but this year they bring back midfielder Stephen Armstrong, who notched 76 points last season, fifth in the league.
The Blast split last year’s season series with Chicago, going 3-3. The Blast will first face the Storm Feb. 1 at First Mariner Arena.
The third expansion team to join the MISL, the Sharks will play at Amway Arena under coach Jake Dancy. With their first and sixth picks overall, Orlando plucked midfielder Jonathan Steele and goalkeeper Brian Rowland from the Blast. The 21-year-old Steele had 24 points for the Blast, but the team suspended him with two games left in the season after an incident in the locker room.
The Blast will face the Sharks in their first road trip of the season Nov. 3.
The Ignition had a successful inaugural season last year, finishing 18-12, first in the MISL. The team features forward Jamar Beasley, who led the league in goals with 40 and points with 107. Detroit lost in the finals to Philadelphia, but beat the Orlando Sharks, 11-2, in a preseason tournament in Milwaukee.
Last year, the Blast were 1-5 against the Ignition. The Blast will head to Detroit Nov. 30 to face the Ignition.
One of the MISL’s original teams, the Kixx won their second title last year after finishing third with a 17-13 record. Much success was due to the offense of forward and coach Don D’Ambra, who was third in the league with 32 goals and 85 points. The Kixx announced last week that they re-signed him, as well as last season’s MISL Goalkeeper of the Year, Peter Pappas.
The Blast went 3-3 against the Kixx last season and beat them, 6-4, in the preseason tournament at Du Burns Arena. The defending champions come to Baltimore Friday to kick off the season.
The Wave, who dominated the MISL in the league’s first four seasons, finished fourth last year, going 16-14. In a preseason tournament at home against Detroit, Orlando and Chicago, Milwaukee was only able to defeat Orlando. Midfielder Marco Leite, who was named All-Rookie last season, led the Wave, scoring the team’s first two goals.
The Wave went 3-3 against the Blast last season, and they will travel to Baltimore Oct. 27.
After failing to qualify for last year’s playoffs, the Blast are looking to bounce back. Plagued by injuries, the team finished fifth last season after winning titles in 2003, 2004 and 2006.
With the league expanding to include three more teams, coach Danny Kelly and his team lost five players to the expansion draft. Still, the organization was able to keep its core players, and the team will feature a mix of young players and veterans.
MISL-leading goalkeeper Sagu returns, along with fellow veterans David Bascome, Denison Cabral and Machel Millwood. The Blast also signed former Maryland Terrapin Scott Buete before the start of the season, but will have to overcome the absence of forward Adauto Neto, who is recovering from surgery after breaking his right foot. Neto was the league’s Most Valuable Player in 2006.
Issue 2.42: October 18, 2007