Over the past 11 years, Baltimore Blast coach Kenny Cooper has often talked at length about his passion and love for the game of soccer.
Those words took on even more meaning for Cooper yesterday when he walked onto the turf at William Myers Pavilion in Brooklyn and resumed his role as the only coach in the history of the franchise.
Cooper was making a comeback in just six days from a blood clot in his lower left leg that hospitalized him last Tuesday and was expected to keep him out of practice for two weeks.
"This job totally has a hold on me," said Cooper, who was released from Greater Baltimore Medical Center at 1 p.m. and arrived at Blast camp at 1:45 p.m. "People keep telling me to be careful, but I sometimes overstep it. I have a passion and love for the game that will never change."
Cooper admitted that the stress from last season's last-place finish (21-31 record) probably has been a contributing factor to his recent medical problems (he was hospitalized last April 28 for an inflamed colon).
"I couldn't put it [first time Blast failed to make the playoffs] behind me," said Cooper. "It was a tough pill to swallow. Only winning and time is going to get us over it."
Cooper said he was still experiencing some pain and shortness of breath yesterday and was taking blood thinner for precautionary reasons.
But he said he was able to coax the doctors into letting him out of the hospital three days earlier than they wanted him to leave.
"Once I know what's wrong with me, I have the ability to focus on it and begin the healing process," he said. "I have to be careful and keep the leg elevated as much as possible. I can walk around, but I can't be involved in any contact. I've been kicked in the left leg during practice sessions with the team and I fell while playing tennis a couple of weeks ago."
According to Cooper, doctors have told him that kind of trauma could have been a contributing factor to the blood clot.
"That can spark it off," said Cooper. "The diagnosis was a blockage in the calf. I didn't want to go into the hospital in %J England [where he experienced discomfort two weeks ago] because they might have kept me three or four weeks."
Cooper also said: "I wanted to wait until I could get to GBMC. Those doctors have been super every time I've been in there. They saved my life when I had the throat problem."
Cooper said he conducted business as usual yesterday at training camp, even though it was an emotional return. Cooper had missed the first five days of workouts.
"It's great to get back," he said. "I have high expectations for this team. The guys seem to have a good attitude. [Doug] Neely, [Iain] Fraser, [Cris] Vaccaro and [Rod] Castro are coming off good seasons. We're still looking to add an experienced player [to replace Paul Wright ]
NOTES: Cooper was even able to joke a little yesterday about his 3 trips to GBMC in the past 18 months. "My kids think I'm a doctor," he said. "I've been there so much that they're thinking about naming a wing of the hospital after me." Mike Stankovic, Blast player/assistant coach who ran the team while Cooper was in the hospital, said he is relieved of a lot of responsibilities since his boss has returned. "But I was ready for it," said Stankovic. "I was meeting with Kenny every day in the hospital and was carrying out exactly what he wanted to be done. But now there is excitement and electricity in the air that Kenny is back." Cooper said he got out of the hospital just in time to meet his commitment as the celebrity host last night for a golf tournament at Chestnut Ridge Country Club benefiting GBMC.