By Barrett Neale
Highlandtown native Giuliano Celenza has spent more than 20 years playing soccer in Charm City, but he announced today he would retire at the end of the Baltimore Blast's season.
Celenza, now in his 11th season with the Blast, is currently fourth on the team's all-time scoring list with 424 points. He has been a part of five Blast championships, was named to two All-MISL teams and was selected MVP of the All-Star Game in 2004. The Blast will honor his career Friday, March 4, before their game against the Chicago Riot.
Before his Blast career, Celenza went to high school at Archbishop Curley and played collegiate soccer at Essex Community College and UMBC. He was named the high school player of the year in 1996 and was inducted into the UMBC Sports Hall of Fame in February 2006.
|Video: "Inside PressBox" Jan. 23, 2011: Stan "The Fan" Charles and Rob Long talk MISL soccer with Baltimore Blast forward Giuliano Celenza.|
Kevin Healey, president and general manager of the Blast, talked about some of his earliest memories of Celenza, including his first game for the Blast, when he scored the game-winning goal on a head ball. Unlike most players, Celenza signed with the Blast right after college and started playing right away.
"Back then, they had the territorial pick," Healey said, "which was very good because if you either grew up here or went to school here -- Giuls did both -- you had first rights to him, so nobody could touch Giuls before we took him, so in February of 2001 we took him. Very unusual for us and the only player we did it with."
Blast owner Ed Hale, who is also from Highlandtown, praised Celenza for staying in Baltimore throughout his career, despite offers to play college ball at Clemson or try out for professional teams in England.
"He's had a great career," Hale said. "The pinnacle of it was in the All-Star Game in 2003-2004 season when he was the MVP. He really played a great game and really distinguished himself and really showed that he could play with anybody so we're happy he stayed here in Baltimore and played for the Baltimore Blast."
The Blast are currently in first place and have three regular-season games left. With a win against the Riot or a Milwaukee Wave loss on Friday, the Blast will host the championship game at 7:35 p.m. on March 25. Head coach Danny Kelly said the team was not taking its foot off the pedal and he hoped Celenza would be part of a sixth championship.
"Giuls has been a special player for many years," said Kelly, who also played for the Blast from 1999-2006. "He's got all the stats, but for me it's not always about the stats. I played with Giuls for many years and for me he was one of the, if not the best, finisher I've ever seen. His first touch and his ability to finish and find the goal are second to none."
Blast captain Robbie Aristodemo rooms with Celenza on roadtrips, and said he was a terrific player and a great family person.
"He's had an outstanding career," Aristodemo said. "It's been a pleasure playing with him. He's one of those guys that you could give him an inch in the box and he'll find a way to put the ball in the back of the net. For me, he's probably been one of the most clinical finishers that the Blast has ever had."
Celenza said he was grateful for the support he had received from Healey, Hale, his teammates and the fans. He decided at the start of this season it would be his last, and said announcing was retirement was a bittersweet moment, because he would miss playing, but was also excited about the prospect of attending Blast games as a fan with his wife, Bev, and his two daughters, Mackenzie and Giuliana.
"Doing something I love for 11 years in my hometown has been great," Celenza said. "I can't thank Kevin, I can't thank Ed enough, to be able to play here. I still remember the day I was brought in and Ed stood up and he said, 'You know Giuls,' he's like, 'You will be taken care of here in Baltimore.' … I'm going to miss the game of soccer, to be able to play in front of a great crowd."
Likewise, the Blast players, coaches and fans will miss him, particularly during the postseason, Aristodemo said.
"If I had a draft pick, he would be my No. 1 draft pick if we were going into a final," Aristodemo said. "For some reason, Giuliano elevates his game, which all good players do, in the games that mean the most. … I hope we can have one more special moment as a team and as roommates one last time, hopefully when we host the finals, if we host the finals."
Posted March 1, 2011