By Michael Lewis
For the first time in the 40-year history of the franchise, the Baltimore Blast won’t be playing indoor soccer.
The Major Arena Soccer League team has announced it won’t compete this season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and no facility to play in, at this time we will not be playing the 2020-2021 season,” the club announced on its website Friday. “After trying to play at Towson University, Essex Community College, and various stadiums at other colleges and local high schools with our indoor field, we have not been successful. If anything changes quickly, whether it is a vaccine or a playing facility, the Baltimore Blast will play.”
The Blast is one of the most iconic indoor soccer teams has played in six indoor leagues and winning 10 chamionships. The team moved from Texas, where it was the Houston Summit for the Major Indoor Soccer League’s first two seasons (1978-80).
“After trying to do whatever we could to play — right now we don’t even have a place to practice let alone play [games] at SECU — we just couldn’t [make it happen],” Blast owner Ed Hale told the Baltimore Sun. “It’s no other reason than COVID being in the position that it is today. It’s a terrible thing. Everybody tried to cooperate and work with us, but everybody is understandably nervous about this.”
Baltimore’s decision had ramifications for three other teams in the Eastern Division. The Rochester Lancers, Harrisburg Heat and Utica City FC were ready to play this winter. MASL teams need to play a minimum of 12 games to reach the postseason.
“Ed Hale has kept pro soccer alive in Baltimore for over 39 years,” Lancers owner Salvatore “SoccerSam” Fantauzzo said. “He tried everything possible but had no luck with arenas or stadiums. I feel awful for all the players, fans, staff and especially for Mr. Hale.”
The Lancers still want to play and are seeking solutions.
The Dome Arena in Henrietta, N.Y. which the team has called home the past two seasons, wouldn’t work under current and state COVID protocols, Fantauzzo said.
“We don’t have glass around the boards to protect the players from our fans. Our aisles are less than six feet wide and the entrance for players and fans isn’t COVID safe for a sporting event,” he said.
There are other options, playing in another city or another venue in the Rochester area.
“We hope to play games in Utica when things change with our state,” Fantauzzo said. “Our other option is TSE [Total Sports Experience]. Both locations are beautiful, spotless clean and could work without fans, but the goal sizes aren’t league approved.”
Fantauzzo noted that the NBA cancelled several more games and that the American Hockey League and other leagues have teams that can’t play in certain states.
“I think our fans understand COVID is real and we all want to do what’s best,” he said.
He added that 4,000-plus people per day are still dying with COVID. I love soccer but jeopardizing the life of someone connected to our team or sport, it’s just crazy right now.
“I’m sure the rest of our division will have a plan in March and I hope everyone understands.”
Many old-time Lancers fans certainly will remember the Blast as being the home to several Lancers players during the early days of the original MISL. Such stars as Jim Pollihan and Pat Ercoli performed for the Blast during those days. The original Blast was owned by Bernie Rodin, who was part owner of the Lancers from 1978-80.
In fact, the Blast was unofficially nicknamed the Lancers South by some media, while the Buffalo Stallions called the Lancers West because that club used so many former Rochester players.
Today’s Blast is trying to get through some tough times.
“We appreciate our fans and sponsors in this difficult time,” a statement on the club website said. “Our players, coaches and management are very disappointed and hoping that we can bring you our exciting brand of soccer and entertainment soon. … The health of our fans, players, staff and sponsors are our top priority.”