A six-year dream came true for Baltimore Blast coach Kenny Cooper yesterday, when the team announced it was going to Manchester, England, to play a one-game indoor soccer challenge match Dec. 4 against the top second division English outdoor team, Oldham Athletic.
Manchester is 52 miles from Cooper's hometown of Blackpool, which the Blast coach left 21 years ago with $46 in his pocket to come to the United States for a tryout with the Dallas Tornado of the North American Soccer League.
The overseas trip will be an emotional homecoming for Cooper, whose father, Joseph, plans to attend the game despite not being in the best of health in recent years.
Joseph Cooper laid the groundwork six years ago for the Blast's journey to Manchester, when he sent his son a newspaper article about the English Football League exploring the possibility of playing indoor soccer.
Baltimore will become the first MSL team in the league's 13-year history to play an indoor game outside North America.
The chance to play in England also gives midfielders Billy Ronson (Blackpool) and Mark Mettrick (Glossup, which is 15 minutes from Manchester) an opportunity to go home to play for the first time with the Blast.
Ronson said: "To go back to England and play soccer and let them see how I'm earning a living is a dream come true. But when we get off the airplane, it will be all intensity to win the game. It's especially nice since it's near Christmas."
Mettrick said with a smile: "A lot of my friends and family will be going to the game. If we lose, I won't be able to go home to England again. I'll have to stay in Baltimore."
Being first to play indoor soccer in England represents a victory of sorts for Cooper and the Blast over coach Ron Newman and the San Diego Sockers.
Newman, a native of Portsmouth, England, had hoped to break indoor soccer ground in England with his six-time MSL champion Sockers.
MSL commissioner Earl Foreman said yesterday that the league originally wanted the champion Sockers to be the first to play indoor soccer in Europe.
"We wanted San Diego to represent us since they were the champions," Foreman said. "We had planned to send them to Zurich, Switzerland, [Jan. 1-2] to play in a tournament, but that changed when the St. Louis Storm came into the league last year."
Foreman said, "I made a promise to Milan Mandaric [Storm owner] when he got the franchise that he could go to Europe and play whenever we worked out the details for one of our teams to go over there."
Those details were worked out two weeks ago, and Foreman said he had to keep his promise to Mandaric.
Opponent: Dallas Sidekicks
Site: Baltimore Arena, 7:35 p.m.
Radio: WCAO (600 AM)
Tickets: 5,000 remaining
Outlook: The Blast must stop the MSL's leading scorer, Tatu (16 goals, 13 assists). Both teams are 4-5 and coming off losses (Baltimore, 5-4, in overtime to Tacoma and Dallas, 6-4, to Kansas City). Four of the Blast's five losses have been by a goal, two in overtime. G Scott Manning (sprained left ankle) turned his ankle in practice yesterday but said he'd be ready to play tonight if called upon. Instead, he's expected to miss his ninth straight game before starting Friday night in St. Louis. G Hank Henry probably will start tonight. Sidekicks F Marcelo Carrera (strained left hamstring) and MF Dali (strained right hamstring) are questionable. Tennis star Pam Shriver will be the celebrity detonator tonight during opening ceremonies. Manning said he turned his ankle during practice yesterday but would be ready to play tonight "if they want me to." Cooper said he believes Manning needs a few more days to work out after being out for more than four weeks.