The Buffalo Blizzard has history going against it tonight as the team opens its fifth National Professional Soccer League season in Wichita, Kan.
The Blizzard has never won a season opener on the road (losing at Baltimore last year and at Cleveland in 1994), and has never won at all at the Kansas Coliseum, where it is 0-4 and has been outscored by the Wings by a combined 57-32.
The Blizzard also has never before opened a campaign with such an unsettled cast. Because of late signings and reportings, some of the players on the carpet tonight will be relative strangers. Only one, midfielder Randy Pikuzinski, can claim to be a member of the "original Blizzard."
"I wish we had five exhibition games instead of three," said coach Gary Hindley, who admits that the "real" Blizzard team has not yet been fully formed.
"I know that we're not close to where we want to be yet. But in the last couple weeks, the last two days especially, I feel a different sense of confidence on the field. We're all starting to get an idea of what we want to do out there," Hindley said.
"You always want everything settled," he added. "My personality is black and white. I want everything done and cut and dried. And preseason is never like that. So that's always frustrating to me."
In the last few days, the Blizzard has gained a veteran forward by acquiring Doug Miller from the Cleveland Crunch, but has lost two veteran defenders as brothers Bobby and Michael DiNunzio -- who have been in training camp -- have not reached new contract agreements.
Miller, a 27-year-old left-footed forward who played outdoors last summer with the Rochester Raging Rhinos, arrived at practice Wednesday and is expected to start tonight on a line with Gino DiFlorio and Mauro Biello.
This will be Miller's fifth NPSL season. He was traded from Harrisburg to Cleveland (then coached by Hindley) during in the 1993-94 season. Last year, he was the champion Crunch's No. 3 scorer, getting 63 goals and 20 assists worth 136 points, No. 12 in the league.
"He hits a great ball, knows the indoor game, and has been part of championships both in Cleveland and now in Rochester," Hindley said. "I coached him as a young player and I think his maturity as a forward in the last couple years has really come full circle."
Miller was the third veteran to be acquired in recent days. Besides veteran goalkeeper Mark Simpson, who went 5-8 with a 15.42 points-against average with Hindley's Cincinnati Silverbacks last season, the Blizzard also acquired Cincinnati defender Chuck Codd, who will be starting his sixth NPSL season. Codd tore his left anterior cruciate ligament last January and plays with a knee brace.
Simpson will not be with the team until at least next week. He will be in net for D.C. United in Sunday's Major League Soccer championship game against the Los Angeles Galaxy.
Hindley said the DiNunzio brothers -- Michael is an original Blizzard starter and Bobby joined the team in its second season -- had contracts that expired Sept. 30. He said negotiations with Jim May, vice president of soccer operations, are continuing.
Michael DiNunzio's departure leaves Pikuzinski as the only remaining member of the original Blizzard team, which beat Denver, 15-7, in Memorial Auditorium in the team's first game on Nov. 6, 1992. Hindley said Pikuzinski will play on a line with Andrew Crawford and another yet-to-be decided forward. Rudy Pikuzinski, Randy's older brother, was left unprotected in the expansion draft. His rights were acquired by the Philadelphia Kixx, but he has not reached a contract agreement.
John Howard, who spent last season as backup goalkeeper, will start in net tonight. Howard started eight games last year en route to a 2-7 record and an 18.04 paa.
Howard's first start came last Nov. 26 against Hindley's team at Cincinnati. He made 18 saves as Buffalo won, 9-8.
Hindley said he was impressed with Howard's effort, which the coach called a "career game."
Buffalo continues with three more road games (at Detroit, Toronto and Milwaukee) before facing Detroit in the home opener at Marine Midland Arena on Nov. 15.