William Vanzela, the star goalkeeper for the Baltimore Blast of the Major Arena Soccer League, has re-signed with the team on a one-year deal.
The 36-year-old Vanzela, who has played eight indoor seasons with the Blast and nine overall, was loaned to the San Diego Sockers during the COVID-19-shortened 2021 season after Baltimore was forced to cancel its season.
Returning for another season was a no-brainer, he said.
“It feels great to be back after a year where the Blast didn’t play,” Vanzela said. “It’s nice to be back home to play for our fans in our arena. It’s where I call home.”
For the first time in his career, Vanzela played with totally different teammates, in a different system with a different jersey on his back. He was able to match up against some current and former Blast teammates, including former Blast star Vini Dantas and defender Adriano Dos Santos, who played for the Tacoma Stars.
Vanzela maintained his high level of play with the Sockers, leading the league with a .761 save percentage and a 4.03 goals against average.
Vanzela made 46 saves during the 2021 playoffs to help the Sockers win the Ron Newman Cup in a decisive third mini-game against the Ontario Fury.
“I’m lucky enough to say that I’ve played for the two biggest franchises in indoor soccer history and won championships with both,” said Vanzela, who has now won five titles. “San Diego has a fantastic organization from the top to the bottom. It starts from the front office, coaches, trainers, players. The people are so nice. I have so much respect for them and I’ve learned to love guys who I used to hate. We joke about that all the time.”
Entering the season, San Diego had been seeking its first title since the 2012-13 season when it capped off a four-peat. Vanzela brought experience and a championship pedigree that his teammates welcomed with open arms, immediately making him a leader on the team.
Though his lone season with San Diego ended with hardware, the campaign was still a difficult experience, Vanzela said, one beset by COVID restrictions and long flights back and forth across the country. Between weekend games Vanzela flew back to Baltimore to be with his family and continue his Born to Fly goalie clinics.
Since 2014, Vanzela has also served as an assistant coach for Johns Hopkins men’s soccer. The Blue Jays’ 2020 season was postponed and later canceled due to the pandemic. The team recently finished its 2021 season with a 12-5-2 record and won the Centennial Conference.
“It was tough but, you know, at the end of the day I chose wisely and got rewarded for my choice,” he said of his fifth championship season. “I’ve been in every single championship game besides 2018. So, that has been such an accomplishment. I had fun but it was time to come home.”
The Blast started training camp this week. The team plays its first game of the season Dec. 4 against the Florida Tropics at Towson University’s SECU Arena.
Vanzela, his fellow veterans, including Dos Santos (who also recently re-signed with the team), and rookies will all be starting from scratch as they learn the system of first-year head coach David Bascome. Bascome, a longtime former assistant, was hired last year to replace Danny Kelly, who left the team after more than a decade in charge.
“A new coach changes everything even if he was here for so long. He has different ways to do certain things and that’s obviously normal,” Vanzela said. “I’m very curious to see the changes that he’s already started to implement on the field. … He’s a guy that’s super positive and I think he’s going to do great things.”
The extra time Bascome has had to prepare for this season will help the team hit the ground running in pursuit of a 10th championship since 2003, Vanzela said. There could be some hiccups early on, though, as teams adjust to a new rule that will be implemented this season across MASL to increase the offensive pace of games.
Under the new rule, goalkeepers may only touch the ball once in any given sequence; the rule is intended to curb back passes from outfield players to keepers during a possession. This season, once a keeper deliberately releases a ball from his possession, he can’t legally touch the ball again in his own half unless an opponent touches the ball, the ball goes out of play, there is another stoppage or the goalkeeper crosses midfield.
The rule is well-intentioned and while he has no ill-will toward MASL leadership for implementing it, Vanzela said he doesn’t approve of the rule change. The veteran predicted it could lead to more injuries that result from a more physical play style.
“The game will be ugly,” he said. “We will have to adjust with the new rule as far as our system goes but Bascome will do his best to get us ready.
“I have to really prepare my body to get beat up through the course of the season,” he added. “But at the end of the day, I do what I love and I love what I do. So I’ll be very happy to go in front of our fans and try to prevent goals and win games.”
Photo Credit: Sabina Moran