In most of the world’s soccer leagues, loans are a common occurrence.
Players who aren’t seeing the field for a big club might be loaned to a smaller club in another league to help them develop their skills. Take the recently crowned UEFA Champions League winners Chelsea FC of the English Premier League. Chelsea is known for sending out dozens of young players across the world on loan annually.
But in the Major Arena Soccer League (MASL), loaning players had been unheard of.
That changed after the Baltimore Blast was forced to cancel its season because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Only seven of the 17 MASL teams managed to play a truncated season earlier this year.
In January, the Blast offered three of the team’s veterans a chance to be loaned out.
Defender Adriano Dos Santos jumped at the opportunity. So, too, did first-choice goalkeeper William Vanzela, who headed to the San Diego Sockers, and forward Mike DaSilva, who landed with the Kansas City Comets.
Dos Santos chose the Tacoma Stars.
The decision was made easy thanks to existing relationships he had with players on the roster, Dos Santos said. He had played with goalkeeper Chris Toth and Stars head coach Nick Perera on the U.S. Men’s Beach Soccer National Team. And Vini Dantas, a former Blast player, was traded to the Stars in 2020.
The alternative was to stay home, ride out the pandemic and start the 2021-22 season having not played a live game in almost two years.
“It was about me staying busy and playing because to stay two years without playing, for a guy 33, 34 years old, that’s not easy to do,” said Dos Santos, who is entering his 12th year playing indoor soccer.
Blast owner Ed Hale, general manager Gianni Tumminello and new head coach David Bascome encouraged their stars to seize the chance while it was available.
The three players garnered a lot attention from other teams, according to Bascome, who noted that’s a sign of how much the rest of the league respects and desires Baltimore’s talent.
“It’s awesome … to get a chance to experience these other cultures and climates and get an opportunity to continue to win,” the coach said.
The roughly three-and-a-half month season was a grind for Dos Santos. In between coaching youth soccer with former Blast teammate Adauto Neto, he trained by himself in Baltimore and flew out to meet the team on weekends for games.
Tacoma wasn’t allowed to play in its home stadium because of Washington State’s COVID-19 restrictions, so all of the team’s games were played on the road in states with looser pandemic restrictions like Missouri, Texas and Florida.
The Tacoma players welcomed Dos Santos with open arms despite the odd circumstances. Looking back, the experience was draining, constantly flying from city to city but was also “very positive,” he said.
“It was a little hard but it was fun,” Dos Santos said.
The best part was making new friends on the team beyond those he already had and playing in the free-flowing style Tacoma deploys on the field, Dos Santos said. It was a temporary reprieve from the regimented, highly-structured system the Blast has used during the last decade-plus to garner nine championships since 2003.
Dos Santos said the reputation of being indoor soccer royalty followed him to the Stars given his part in the Blast’s success, with his new teammates showing respect and asking non-stop questions about how he prepares.
Thanks to the quirks of MASL scheduling, the Blast rarely plays the Stars, so Dos Santos had never played in Tacoma during his career before 2021. He was finally able to visit the city for a week during an opening-round playoff series against San Diego. Vanzela was in goal for the Sockers.
Dos Santos notched three assists, but Tacoma’s season ended in disappointment with two narrow overtime defeats. Despite only playing with the team for about a dozen games, Dos Santos was still disappointed by the playoff exit. After all, winning is still winning no matter who you play for.
The Sockers went on to win the Ron Newman Cup against the Ontario Fury.
Dos Santos said he was happy for his Blast teammate to win another championship. The pair has won four titles together in Baltimore.
“He’s got one on me now,” Dos Santos joked.
With the loan season completed, Dos Santos’ player rights reverted back to Baltimore. And his attention immediately turned to preparation for the Blast’s return to Towson University’s SECU Arena. It will be the 40th time the Blast field a team in Charm City.
The Blast’s regular-season home opener is scheduled for Dec. 4 at 6:05 p.m. Fans will be in attendance for the first time since March 2020.
Dos Santos recently re-signed with the Blast. Per team and league policy, the terms of the deal aren’t public. Management is confident Vanzela and DaSilva will also be re-signed.
The new deal, whether for this season or longer, will ensure Dos Santos anchors a defense eager to prove itself after nearly two years away from competitive play. The ultimate goal? Of course, the team’s 11th indoor title.
Bascome watched Dos Santos’ games with Tacoma via stream, preparing for how he will deploy the defender in his first season as coach.
While he may not be as athletic as he once was — something Dos Santos admits without hesitation — what remains in full supply is his deep well of experience and innate leadership. Bascome hopes to harness those intangibles this season to help guide the new young players the team has brought in.
“I am very happy to have him back,” Bascome said. “Adriano comes with a lot of personality. One thing is his emotion and he has a winning way. It’s tough to find that. He gets up and wants to play and win. It’s tough to replace that love for the game.”
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Baltimore Blast
Originally published June 16, 2021