Still chasing Sockers, Cooper is ready for Blast's 11th season

September 23, 1990|By Bill Free

Kenny Cooper insists he is not burned out after 10 years as the Baltimore Blast's only head coach.

Cooper scoffs at the suggestion that he might resign if the Blast comes up short in the playoffs again this season.

"Why would I do that?" said Cooper, who seemed hurt by such an idea. "I love coaching, and I'm still highly motivated. Jim Pollihan [Blast assistant] and I want to be No. 1. I just love the Blast. I know it will go on without me because the organization is strong now. I still get nervous and excited as training camp gets closer. In the past 10 years of coaching, I've wanted to win the championship for everybody else. This year, I'm making it more personal. I want to win it for my family. I hope the other players take it [winning] as personally as I do."

Cooper also said, "People say we haven't beaten San Diego [0-for-4 in championship series against Sockers], but who has beaten them?"

The answer is the Tacoma Stars, who eliminated San Diego, 4-3, in the semifinals of the 1987 Major Indoor Soccer League playoffs. But Tacoma lost to the Dallas Sidekicks in the championship series.

That was the only year the six-time MISL champion Sockers didn't go all the way.

Baltimore won its only MISL title in 1984, the year San Diego dropped out of the league to play in the North American Soccer League's indoor league for a season. The Sockers won the NASL championship that season and in 1982, giving them eight indoor championships in the past nine years.

Cooper, the dean of the league's coaches, will be opening his 11th Blast training camp Tuesday at 1:30 p.m. at Myers Pavilion in Brooklyn. The league has a new name (Major Soccer League), but many of the names for the Blast remain the same.

Sixteen of 19 players from last year's 32-20 regular-season championship team are returning.

The number could rise to 17 this week if newly acquired Blast forward Dale Mitchell is declared a free agent by arbitrator George Nicolau. That would void the trade that sent Carl Valentine to the Kansas City Comets for Mitchell.

Valentine would return to the Blast, and Mitchell has indicated he would sign with Tacoma.

Mitchell has filed a grievance against the Comets, saying they fraudulently induced him to sign by making oral promises "over and above what was written in the contract" and then traded him to Baltimore, which had no knowledge of those extras (commercials and promotions that could help Mitchell earn an extra $18,000 a year).

Cooper said he still believes Mitchell will be with the Blast this season.

"We brought Dale in to help us take full advantage of the larger goals [width increased from 12 to 14 feet and height from 6 feet 6 to 7-6]," said Cooper. "Dale's a great goal scorer, and you can never have enough goal scorers. I believe we'll have Dale. If it changes, we have to be flexible enough to change. If it doesn't work out, we won't panic."

The two players who definitely won't return to Baltimore are forward Peter Ward and midfielder Paul Dougherty.

The only other big-name newcomer to the Blast this season is midfielder Richard Chinapoo, who was signed as a free agent from the Dallas Sidekicks.

Chinapoo played five seasons here before going to the Sidekicks the past two years.

Cooper said he decided not to let the disappointment of losing to the Sockers in the finals two straight years "take anything away from our organization."

"We have a model franchise. We've won more games than anyone else the past two years," said Cooper. "So if it's not broke, we aren't going to fix it. We just have to hope we can put it together if we make it to the finals this season."

Cooper said he won't change anything in his intense approach to the regular season, which contrasts with San Diego's laid-back style.

Several Sockers players said last season that they like to coast through the regular season and turn it on for the playoffs.

"We have an obligation to our fans to win as many games as possible in the regular season," said Cooper. "That San Diego stuff would never work here in Baltimore. The answer to beating San Diego is simple in the playoffs. All our players have to play their best to win. We aren't like San Diego, who can win as long as six or seven guys, especially Brian Quinn and Branko Segota, put it all together."

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