Negotiations to sign U.S. national team goalkeeper Tony Meola to a contract with the Baltimore Blast fell through yesterday, leaving Scoop Stanisic as the likely starter against the San Diego Sockers at the Baltimore Arena Friday night.
"Tony Meola would have been a major signing for this franchise," coach Kenny Cooper said. "He's played at the highest level of world competition [starter for the 1990 U.S. World Cup team]. He wants to return to the area [he's a graduate of the University of Virginia] and play for us in the Major Soccer League. But he can't be here until early next week, and that won't help us."
Under MSL rules, the Blast has to pay Stanisic for the season if he plays Friday. With Scott Manning out with a sprained left ankle, Baltimore isn't in a position to release Stanisic until it signs another goalkeeper.
Meola, 6 feet, 195 pounds, is on loan from the U.S. national team to Watford in the English Second Division soccer league. He needs international travel clearance before he can leave for the United States and approval from the U.S. Soccer Federation before signing with the Blast.
Cooper said Meola became interested in the Blast 18 months ago when he attended an MSL game at the Baltimore Arena.
"He likes the area, his family is in New Jersey, and playing for us is something he has talked about for a while," Cooper said. "But he told me last night [early yesterday about 2 a.m.] that he can't get here until Monday or Tuesday."
Cooper said that if Meola had been able to arrive before Friday's game, he probably would have been starting in the goal against San Diego and in Sunday's game against the Wichita Wings at the Arena.
"We were ready to play him [Meola] in those games," Cooper said. "He's played some indoor [club] soccer."
Meola is one of four goalkeepers Cooper has had discussions with in the past three days since the Blast coach became unhappy with Stanisic's play in Saturday night's 6-5 loss to the Kansas City Comets.
Cooper said the other three -- the Maryland Bays' Steve Powers, former St. Louis Storm goalkeeper David Brcic and Jamie Swanner of the Canton Invaders (indoor National Professional Soccer League) -- also are unavailable.
Powers is out for three weeks after undergoing shoulder surgery, Brcic appears close to coming out of retirement to play with the Storm again and Canton won't release Swanner to play for Baltimore.
"It hasn't worked out," Cooper said of his attempts to bring in another goalkeeper. "We met with Scoop yesterday and told him he has to be more vocal on the floor and clear people [teammates and opponents] out of the penalty box if they get in his way. He has to become more physical and have more intensity. He has the physical tools, but his focus and concentration have to be better."
Stanisic said he met with his teammates and told them he "would be yelling more at them to save my job."
"I don't like to hurt anybody's feelings," he said. "That's why I haven't been hollering at my teammates. I figured they were professionals and knew what to do. But now I'll do what I have to do to keep my job. I hope they understand. Don't count me out."