"I have another hand. I would like to add another ring."

by Michael Lewis

William Vanzela has won so many indoor championships that he has a ring for every finger.

But as the veteran goalkeeper recently reminded this writer, he has room for some more.

"I have another hand," he said. "I would like to add another ring.

"But jokes aside it has been a while since we won one."


That was in 2018, when Baltimore completed a remarkable threepeat in the Major Arena Soccer League. Until then, vying for titles and reaching the championship series became an annual rite for Vanzela and his teammates. They had competed in indoor finals six consecutive times. The Blast secured the Ron Newman Cup three times and a Major Indoor Soccer League championship.

"It's too long for Blast fans and the Blast organization," Vanzela said. "We need to get ourselves back there. But obviously it's one game at a time. We'll be doing what we can to prove that we're mature as a team to get to that point and to compete. We have enough experienced players that went to finals after finals to know what it takes to get us to the championship."

Vanzela and his teammates will have an opportunity to add another indoor title to their collections when they meet the Chihuahua Savage in the MASL finals. Because of a lack of arena availability in Baltimore, both games will be played at the Corner Sport Arena in Chihuahua, Mexico. Game 1 is set for Thursday, April 27, with Game 2 on Friday, April 28. Both matches kick off at 10 p.m. ET.

Playing both its playoff games at the Milwaukee Wave in the Eastern Division finals did not deter the Blast, which won both contests in the enemy arena.

"I think we're peaking at the right time," said Vanzela, who has become accustomed to a certain level of success.

A year prior to joining Baltimore, the 5-11, 205-lb. netminder was selected to represent Italy and played a vital role in leading the team to FIF7 Mundialito 2011 title in Brazil. Vanzela was named best goalkeeper for two years running in the competition.

"I think I put myself on the spot," he said. "Every time I step on the field, I will give 100 percent. You can't accomplish anything in this game by yourself. Even when we succeed as a team and you look at the Blast defense and you can say 'Okay, the goalie is doing a great job.' That's not true. It's teamwork and team effort."

Vanzela, who sat out the last three regular season games recovering from that back injury, noted the play of reserve goalie Mike Zierhoffer during the weekend of March 24. Zierhoffer surrendered two goals in a pair of wins over the Mesquite Outlaws, scoring a goal and recording a shutout in the second encounter.

"Our backup keeper had a phenomenal weekend and we conceded two goals in two games," he said. "That puts in perspective how good of a team we are."

When he has played, Vanzela was very good this season, earning second team all-star honors. He recorded a 4.13 goals-against average, second only to the San Diego Sockers' Boris Pardo (3.80 GAA), an MASL Elite Six selection. Vanzela led the league with a 79.0 save percentage.

"He's everything that you expect," said Blast defender Jake Schindler, who joined the team from the Rochester Lancers (MASL2) for the postseason. "He's a leader. He sacrifices himself for the team. He'll never quit. He shows that every time he goes out and plays. It doesn't matter what hurts, how bad it hurts. I just respect him, for having that kind of commitment to being successful. It's definitely inspiring to have your teammates show that sort of attitude. You definitely want to pay them back when you're out on the field."

For his career, besides the MASL playoff MVP honors in 2012 and 2017, the 38-year-old netminder was the 2015 MASL goalkeeper of the year and a two-time all MASL second team selection.

Individual honors aside, the best thing is a championship, and of course, another ring.

Like parents being proud of their children, every one of Vanzela's five indoor championships has a meaning in their unique way.

"They're all like your babies. Everyone is special," he said.

He added that "2012 was the first year I won and that was the only championship I won at home. So that was definitely special. I was MVP of the final, so that's super special. 2016 was really special because after losing two years in a row in the final. You don't want to lose three times. We had to win. Then the year after we got it back-to-back was super special."

In 2018, Vanzela tore his groin during the season, but he returned to backstop the Blast in the semifinals and final. He was MVP of that series as well.

"I had to fight a lot of things that season to win the championship," he said.

Vanzela was thrust into the world of a goalkeeper at the age of eight. His youth team was in the semifinal of a tournament and the regular goalie was in a car accident and could not make the game.

"Our coach asked us who wanted to go into the goal, and then I had zero desire to run," he said. "So I said okay, I'll do it."

Some three decades later, Vanzela is still doing it - at a very high level. He said that he had few problems transitioning to the position because of his good hand-eye coordination.

"I have good reaction, no fear," he said. "I think the most important is I like to deal with pressure. The fact that you're the last man that cannot make a mistake and everybody's counting on you, that scares some people. That actually motivates me to play even better. That was a good combination."

Vanzela certainly loves what he does.

How much? Well, on his bio page of the MASL website, Vanzela was asked the question: If you couldn’t play soccer for a living, what would you be?

"Dead!" was his response.

"Absolutely. I've been doing this as a professional since I was 16," he told this writer. "I helped my family financially, put two sisters in college and everything I have is because of soccer. I could not be happier or have had a better life. So yes, if I could not play soccer, I probably would be dead."

To say that Vanzela has become immersed in goalkeeping would be an understatement. He has served as goalkeeping coach for the Johns Hopkins men's soccer team since 2015, and runs a goalkeeper training program, Born To Fly, in the Baltimore area.

Vanzela also has helped other goalies and teammates - backup keepers Zach Haussler, Quantrell Jones and Zierhoffer.

"I tried to teach them everything I know about this game," he said. "I am very happy with them and the work they put in, in the day in, day out, knowing that they don't get much playing time. I could not be more happy for the weekend he [Zierhoffer] or the other guys that might be able to step up next game. I'll give them every single piece that I know of this game to them and try to help better their game.

"Every goalie knows how to make a save. They've been doing this their whole lives. It's how can you adjust to the indoor game. I do know pretty much a lot about the position. I try to share that with them. We're very good friends on and off the field. It goes very smoothly."

At 38 and after taking countless dives and making sprawled saves, Vanzela admitted he did not know how long he would play.

"I think a lot of people will judge me every time I step on the field, but nobody is harder than myself," he said. "As long as I watch myself playing and I think I'm playing in the level that I'm capable to play, I will continue. That's the decision that I will make every time I step on the field. I will take it game by game, year by year. Right now, I'm completely focused on the playoffs, and trying to help my team to accomplish something together. Then we shall see."

Speaking of the playoffs, we haven't forgotten about Vanzela's fifth and most recent ring. As it turned out, he did not earn it with the Blast.

It came as a member of Sockers during the truncated 2021 MASL season. Due to the fact the Blast did not play because of the COVID-19 pandemic, he was loaned to San Diego for that campaign.

"I never expected to play elsewhere," he said. "I thought it was pretty established here in Baltimore. But life gave us a curveball and I ended up going to San Diego. I joke all the time that I hate the guys and it's because they're good players. When I play, I'm very competitive. I cannot like anybody that's playing against me."

During his short San Diego tenure, the Brazilian keeper got to know his new teammates, however temporary his experience was.

"After games usually we talked and I knew guys were really nice," he said. "So, I knew it would be a very good experience and it was. The San Diego organization is hands down, one of the best organizations in the league. It was easy for me to adapt and adjust and I had a very good time. And to win a championship with another big franchise, it was obviously really special for me because not many players were able to win it."

And not many players would receive an opportunity to start a new hand for their championship rings.


Michael Lewis, the editor of FrontRowSoccer.com, can be followed on Twitter at @SoccerWriter. Lewis can be reached via email at socwriter@optonline.com His book Alive and Kicking: The incredible, but true story of the Rochester Lancers, recently was published. It can be purchased at https://tinyurl.com/2p8rzhpy.lk. His sequel, STILL AND ALIVE AND KICKING: The story of the 21st century Rochester Lancers, will be published soon. It will have many features about indoor soccer and MASL players.

end it