Com­ing off toe in­jury, Dan­tas is ‘hun­gry’ to get into game

In his third sea­son, team’s top of­fen­sive threat hopes to leave last­ing im­pres­sion

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Glenn Graham glenn.graham@balt­sun.com twit­ter.com/Glen­nGra­hamSun

Good first im­pres­sions have come easy for Blast for­ward Vini Dan­tas.

Dur­ing his first train­ing ses­sion play­ing out­doors for the North Amer­i­can Soc­cer League’s Ot­tawa Fury in 2014, Blast veteran Tony Donatelli, also with Ot­tawa at the time, im­me­di­ately no­ticed the 6-foot-1, 200-pound Dan­tas dur­ing a 5-on-5 game.

Dan­tas showed quick­ness to go with his dom­i­nant size, nifty foot­work and im­pos­ing shot.

“I just knew he would trans­late quickly into the in­door game,” Donatelli said.

When Donatelli put a call in to Blast man­age­ment on his po­ten­tial find, there was im­me­di­ate in­ter­est. Once again, it didn’t take long for Dan­tas to stand out.

“One of the first days in train­ing, Vini took a ball off his chest, killed it and laid off a pass, and [ Blast as­sis­tant coach David] Bas­come and I just looked at each other,” Blast coach Danny Kelly said. “You rec­og­nize the play­ers that are spe­cial pretty quickly and just see dif­fer­ent things that’s not taught. It’s just nat­u­ral and when you see it, it’s ob­vi­ously a good thing.”

Now in his third sea­son, Dan­tas, 27, is work­ing on leav­ing a last­ing im­pres­sion as one of the Ma­jor Arena Soc­cer League’s most dom­i­nant tar­get for­wards.

Af­ter es­tab­lish­ing him­self as the Blast’s top of­fen­sive threat at the start of last sea­son, with 20 goals and 10 as­sists in the team’s first 12 games, Dan­tas suf­fered a sea­son-end­ing toe in­jury that re­quired surgery.

He was proud to see the Blast claim the MASLcham­pi­onship. But tonight — when the team opens its 2016-17 regular sea­son in Har­ris­burg, Pa., to take on the Heat — can’t come soon enough.

“The in­jury came in Jan­uary and then surgery in the mid­dle of Fe­bru­ary, so pretty much since then it’s been a lot of re­hab­bing and train­ing [in­stead] of play­ing. So I’m very hun­gry to get out there and play,” he said.

It showed at a prac­tice ses­sion last week. He was go­ing full speed with an in­ten­sity level most play­ers re­serve for games. It’s the only way he knows how to play, and his team­mates — new and old — feed off it.

“Ev­ery year is its own,” Dan­tas said. “What­ever is go­ing to hap­pen this year I have to earn. I have to work ev­ery day and be as in­tense as I can be be­cause what­ever I do [at prac­tice] is go­ing to trans­late into the games. So hope­fully by what I do here, peo­ple can see the rea­son why I was get­ting so many goals last year was be­cause I did it in here, ran hard in here.”

His team­mates, many of them new­com­ers as he’s taken on a lead­er­ship role, have taken note.

“He’s a guy that doesn’t take days off. He works 100 per­cent ev­ery day, so go­ing to train­ing with him is a great chal­lenge,” Sea­son opener Tonight, 7:05 Blast goalie Wil­liam Vanzela said. “He trains so hard and is def­i­nitely a guy that ev­ery­body looks up to. He ap­plies the game sit­u­a­tions in train­ing ev­ery day and then it goes to the game and he’s a beast out there.”

A na­tive of Sao Paulo, Brazil, who grew up play­ing fut­sal, Dan­tas came to the United States when he was 18, ac­cept­ing a schol­ar­ship to play soc­cer at Azusa Pa­cific in Cal­i­for­nia. He played pro­fes­sion­ally out­doors, in the United States and abroad, be­fore com­mit­ting to the in­door game with the Blast.

Learn­ing the nu­ances of the in­door game and the Blast’s de­tailed sys­tem of play took some time for Dan­tas, but not much. By the mid­dle of his rookie sea­son, he was quickly pro­cess­ing what he had learned and able to play in­stinc­tively.

He fin­ished his first sea­son with 20 goals and five as­sists — in­clud­ing the play­offs — and was named to the MASL All-Rookie Team.

Be­fore the start of last sea­son, he shared two goals he made for him­self with a cou­ple of close team­mates. The first was to get more points than he had the year be­fore. The sec­ond was to win a cham­pi­onship.

He needed a lit­tle more than half a sea­son to reach the first and needed some help from his team­mates to reach the sec­ond.

“The mo­ment I found out I couldn’t play the rest of the sea­son, I re­lied on my team­mates. I told them ‘Guys, I still have an ob­jec­tive for the sea­son, which is to win the cham­pi­onship, and you’ve got to do it for me.’ And they came through and it was awe­some,” he said.

A healthy and hun­gry Dan­tas this sea­son is good news for the Blast and bad news for the rest of the MASL. With sev­eral new play­ers and op­pos­ing teams mak­ing it a pri­or­ity to con­tain him, the chal­lenge for Kelly is mak­ing sure Dan­tas has an op­por­tu­nity to play his game.

“Teams are go­ing to dou­ble- and triple-team him, and we got to bring the other guys along who are play­ing in the mid­field and sec­ond for­ward spot. [We need to] get them to do the right things to take that pres­sure off him,” Kelly said. “So that’s go­ing to be on us: Can I get the rest of the team where they need to be so Vini can be him­self and pro­duc­tive?”

Dan­tas has no doubt, wel­com­ing ev­ery the chal­lenge the sea­son will bring.

“It’s great — what I play for,” he said. “De­fend­ers have their job and I have mine as a for­ward, which is to score goals and try to get my team­mates to score. When I’m do­ing those things con­sis­tently and help­ing the team win, there’s no bet­ter feel­ing.”

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