Baltimore Blast owner Ed Hale barely began talking about next season before he made it perfectly clear that Kenny Cooper was returning to coach the team.
"I'm not getting rid of Kenny," Hale said. "I'm coming back, and [general manager] John Borozzi is coming back. The front office did a great job this season. I know they're crushed and disappointed that we didn't make the playoffs. But they did their job."
However, Hale and Cooper promised changes on the field for the 1991-92 season in the wake of Blast's worst regular-season record (21-31) in its 11-year Major Soccer League history.
"There will be changes," Hale said. "You can't stand pat."
Cooper said he wants to meet with the players this week before discussing any changes.
"A lot of players will be making decisions on their future," he said. "Some may not want to stay in soccer. They may be tired of the wear and tear of the sometimes uncertainty of the league. I say we need to find players who play for the love of the game. Others [players] say, 'I've heard enough about the love of the game; I need to do something else.' "
One of the players seriously considering doing something else with his life is veteran defender Bruce Savage, the Blast's Player of the Decade for the 1980s.
Savage said last night that he will decide about June 30 whether to return to his home state, Florida, to work on a college degree and enable his wife, Angel, to teach school.
Angel Savage is accredited to teach in Pensacola, Fla., but not in Baltimore County.
The loss of Savage, 30, would be a blow to the already-troubled Blast defense. Savage is counted on to guard the top offensive stars in the league, such as Dallas Sidekicks' Tatu and the St. Louis Storm's Preki.
Two other outstanding Blast veterans, midfielder Tim Wittman and goalkeeper Scott Manning, have talked often during the past season about life after soccer.
Without them, Cooper's concerns would be increased greatly.
"When we lost Timmy [for 19 games with injuries] and Angelo Panzetta this season, it hurt our transition game," Cooper said.
"We had some problems defensively and in the midfield. We need to be more creative in the midfield, and we could have used the boards more. We didn't adjust and adapt as much as we should have to the larger goals this season. We should have hit the ball in the general direction of the goal and had someone in the area to knock it in."
Cooper also said it was a season in which opposing teams loved to play at Baltimore Arena -- where the field is 180 feet long, compared with 200 feet in other arenas -- because of the rule change that moved the defenders back 5 feet from the point of a free kick, to 15 feet from 10 feet.
"That new rule opened up a lot of angles on the goal in all arenas, but even more so because the Baltimore Arena is so small," Cooper said. "And the players liked it here because they had less distance to run."
Cooper said the Blast went along with the rule changes as a benefit to the league and the game.
"But this summer when they talk about rule changes, we have to think about ourselves," Cooper said. "We've been a defensive-oriented team over the years, and rules to help the scoring obviously weren't in our favor."
NOTES: The Bay Cafe is holding a Blast Appreciation Night tomorrow night from 6 to 8. It is open to the public. There will be free hors d'oeuvres.
The Baltimore Blast Fan Club will hold a team appreciation dinner Monday night at La Fontaine Rouge on Bel Air Road from 6 to 10. All Blast players and Cooper will attend the dinner, at which 11 awards will be presented to the players by the Fan Club.
The dinner is open to the public. Tickets will cost $20 for adults and $5 for children under 10. For information, call Jodi at the Blast office (327-2100).