BALTIMORE — The Battle of the Benches continues.
Fran Reilly, the Sockers' vice president, reached late Thursday night in San Diego, said owner Bob Bell is so vehemently opposed to the commissioner's decision regarding the use of the team benches in Baltimore that Bell's "initial statement was 'We will not play the game.' "
The Sockers are scheduled to play their season opener at 4:30 today against the Blast at the Civic Center.
Reilly said he met with Francis Dale, the Major Indoor Soccer League commissioner, Thursday in San Diego and told him the Sockers "feel his ruling is an inequity." Reilly said Dale was "equally adamant about his decision."
Bell, whose brother died last week, is in New Jersey with his family. He was unable to be reached Thursday. Reilly added that Bell expects to talk on the phone with Dale today.
The Sockers learned Thursday morning that Dale ruled the Blast will not exchange benches with the visiting team at halftime.
The Sockers' proposal to exchange benches had been recommended by the league competition committee at the league meetings Monday.
So, what is really at question? The field at the Civic Center is smaller than the other fields in the league. Therefore, the benches are not equidistant from the center of the field. That gives the Blast, using the better-situated home team bench, a definite advantage when it comes to making line shifts and controlling the flow of the game.
"I was terribly disappointed in the decision," Socker Coach Ron Newman said, "and I hope to be talking to the commissioner as soon as possible."
Newman has always been outspoken about the benches in Baltimore.
"This is the only arena in the league where the location of the benches affects the flow of the game," Newman said. "They have an 8- to 10-foot advantage. When you double that, it means we have a 16- to 20-foot disadvantage."
Newman said his team has lost at least three games in the final minute of play at Baltimore because of the location of the benches. Last year, the Sockers were 0-3 during the regular season and 1-1 in the playoffs at the Civic Center.
In the final seconds of a game, the bench advantage is magnified. The home team has the option to select the goal it wants to shoot at in the final quarter. It is no surprise that the Blast pick the goal closest to its bench.
"Not having the benches centrally located is a disadvantage for us," Socker defender George Katakalidis said. "It forces our defenders to be on the field for two or three minutes at a stretch as they control the flow. It gets us tired, and, obviously, that gives the other team an advantage."
The MISL competition committee must have agreed. It recently recommended that "benches be equidistant from the center line in all arenas."
On Thursday afternoon, Jim Budish, MISL director of operations, made the following statement on behalf of Dale: "In the best interest of the fans who bought tickets behind the home bench and in the best interest of the league, the commissioner decided to keep everything as it was.
"We do not feel the idea of trading benches at halftime is in the best interest of the league."
The battle of the benches is an issue of fair play, Newman says.
"I would hope that Kenny Cooper (the Blast coach), who is a good friend of mine, would say that this (ruling) is totally out of order," Newman said. "Why would he want to continue to play with that advantage?"
Socker Notes Today's game is scheduled to be broadcast over KLZZ (AM 600) at 4:30 p.m. . . . Juli Veee did not make the trip because of the flu. Brian Quinn is expected to be out for at least a week with a strained right knee. Steve Zungul has an strained Achilles' tendon, but made the trip and is expected to play.