When the Baltimore Blast kicks off its 2021-22 season at SECU Arena Dec. 4, a familiar, lanky forward sporting a padded headband will once again be roaming the turf in search of goals.
It’s been six years since he last wore a Blast uniform, but Max Ferdinand has returned to Baltimore. The Blast announced in early September it had signed the prolific forward to a three-year deal, returning him to the city where he got his start more than a decade ago.
Ferdinand won Major Indoor Soccer League Rookie of the Year in 2009-10, helped secure the Blast’s 2013 MISL title and racked up 97 goals in 127 regular-season appearances from 2009-2015. All the while he wore a distinctive headband for protection after some head injuries.
“It feels like home. It’s where everything started,” Ferdinand said. “I am excited to be back.”
After he last played for Baltimore during the 2014-15 season, Ferdinand played five seasons with the Milwaukee Wave and one with the St. Louis Ambush during the 2021 season shortened by the COVID-19 pandemic. He won a title with Milwaukee in 2018-19, the last full-length Major Arena Soccer League season.
When he takes the field for the Blast again, no longer will he be the young scorer he was when he left Baltimore. The 34-year-old Ferdinand has developed into a complete player — both an elite scorer, finishing with at least 15 goals in eight of his 12 seasons, and a dominant playmaker, compiling 25 assists in four straight seasons before 2021.
Head coach David Bascome, who was an assistant when Ferdinand was last a Blast player, will be in charge of the club for the first season since taking over for longtime coach Danny Kelly.
Bascome is eager to bring his former player back into the fold. He sees the experience Ferdinand has accumulated throughout the past several seasons as an asset.
“It’s great when you have a player that understands the game — been around the game — but also has the ability to execute, not just on the ball, but the ability to execute off the ball,” Bascome said. “I’m glad to have to chance to coach him again.”
Now, Ferdinand will slot in as a veteran responsible for helping lead the team and guide the young players on the roster. Where once he would play a run-and-gun style for all four quarters, he has now adopted a more holistic approach as he’s matured, improving his passing, positioning and defense, Ferdinand said.
“When I was here before it was different. I was learning from the older guys,” he said. “Now it’s my job to teach the young guys — I have a different role — and I am excited to do it.”
Some of those young players include Jake Dengler, a defender who played at Loyola University, and Keegan Kelly, the former coach’s son who played midfield at the University of Maryland.
Ferdinand, who was born in Haiti, began playing soccer around 5 years old. He moved to the U.S. at age 13 and lived in New York City with his father. He eventually moved to Reading, Pa., where he starred as a soccer player in high school.
“In Haiti, that’s all we played was soccer,” he said. “I found my purpose early. I always wanted to play soccer. I am very grateful. It took a lot of hard work but I am very blessed to be playing soccer right now.”
When he came to Baltimore in 2009 and caught on with the Blast at an open tryout, the city became his home away from home. He was welcomed by a close group of teammates, many of whom are still on this year’s team, including Jonatas Melo, Tony Donatelli, Juan Pereira, Mike Deasel and Adriano Dos Santos, who recently re-signed with the club after going out on loan last season.
Ferdinand and Dos Santos, who were once roommates, became especially close.
“Obviously being roommates, we got very, very close,” Ferdinand said. “He’s like a brother to me.”
Aside from Dos Santos and a pair of other players who went out on loan in 2021, much of the team has not played in nearly two years. Ferdinand stayed sharp during a 10-game stint with the Ambush, scoring two goals. Dos Santos came within a goal of winning a title with the Tacoma Stars.
This season, the team is eager to win another title, as is the standard for Baltimore, which completed a three-peat between 2016 and 2018. With two titles under his belt and three years ahead of him with the Blast, more hardware is the ultimate goal, Ferdinand said.
But aside from winning games, he said, meeting fans is an experience he will cherish this year as the team welcomes spectators back to its home games for the first time since before the pandemic began.
“Meeting the new fans and old fans out here supporting me, I’m really excited to play in front of them again,” he said. “Championships are the goal but overall I’m very excited to be back.”
BLAST 2021-22 SCHEDULE
(Home games are listed in CAPS.)
Saturday, Dec. 4: FLORIDA
Saturday, Dec. 11: MILWAUKEE
Sunday, Dec. 12: at Utica City
Saturday, Dec. 18: at Milwaukee
Sunday, Dec. 19: at Kansas City
Sunday, Dec. 26: at Utica City
Saturday, Jan. 8: HARRISBURG
Friday, Jan. 14: at Dallas
Sunday, Jan. 16: at Utica City
Friday, Jan. 21: ONTARIO
Saturday, Jan. 22: at Harrisburg
Saturday, Jan. 29: at Harrisburg
Saturday, Feb. 5: UTICA CITY
Friday, Feb. 11: HARRISBURG
Saturday, Feb. 19: at Tacoma
Saturday, Feb. 26: FLORIDA
Sunday, Feb. 27: UTICA CITY
Friday, March 4: HARRISBURG
Saturday, March 12: SAN DIEGO
Sunday, March 13: at Harrisburg
Sunday, March 20: at Florida
Friday, March 25: UTICA CITY
Saturday, March 26: SAN DIEGO
Sunday, April 3: at Florida
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Baltimore Blast
Originally published Oct. 20, 2021