Tatu is sitting in his living room in Dallas, bouncing his 16-month-old son Andre on his lap and talking on the telephone, admitting if anyone but Dallas Mavericks owner Donald Carter had bought the Sidekicks last summer, he and his family would be setting up house in Baltimore.
"I definitely would have been playing for the Blast," said Tatu, the Major Soccer League's most flamboyant and productive forward. "I have very high respect for Kenny Cooper. His teams are winners. He has the tradition of working hard and being very serious. He and I both want to win. If it hadn't been for these folks . . ."
Tatu will be at the Baltimore Arena Saturday night (7:35) for the MSL season opener between the Blast and the Sidekicks. He will be in a Dallas uniform, but for several months this summer, Tatu was tantalizingly close to being a Blast member.
The Sidekicks had folded and were in the process of finding new ownership when Cooper flew to Dallas to talk with Tatu and his wife Lene. Cooper describes it as a trip similar to the 1983 trip he took to Yugoslavia to entice former MSL and Blast star Stan Stamenkovic here.
"Tatu is charismatic and very intense," Cooper said yesterday. "We discovered we are very much alike. We talked about how he would fit in here, how he and I would get along and we decided it would have worked. When we brought Stan here it was a great risk as to whether he would fit in, but Stan worked out and Tatu would have, too."
It would have been a big move for Tatu, who did for Dallas what Stamenkovic did for the Blast, bring it its only MSL championship. But Tatu was ready to make the move, because he was tired of losing.
When Carter bought the team, however, Cooper knew before Tatu called, he would stay in Dallas.
"It would have been a good move for Tatu," said Cooper. "But with Carter coming back and Gordon [Jago, coach] staying, his staying is as it should be."
Carter is the man who brought Tatu to Dallas eight years ago. He is the original owner of the franchise. Now he is back, and Tatu could not leave.
"If it had been anyone, anyone but Don Carter, I would have left," Tatu continued. "But with Don coming back, I think for the first time this franchise has a real chance to be successful both on and off the field . . . I have been here so long, I didn't want to leave when there was a light at the end of the tunnel. I know Dallas is going to be all right."
Part of the plan is to start winning. To help Tatu and the franchise do that, the Sidekicks have signed All-Star forward Jan Goossens, the league's fourth-leading scorer last season with Kansas City. They also signed David Doyal, who sat out 1990-91 with a broken leg, but who produced 33 goals in 1989-90.
For the first time, Tatu will have powerful offensive help.
"Some people think there is going to be a problem here, because I am used to being the star," Tatu said. "But we are not talking about kids. We are talking about professionals. Now it won't be depending on me all the time. I won't have to play 40 minutes. I am willing to do whatever it takes to help us win."
Tatu, the MSL's three-time scoring leader, says he has enough individual honors. But he has only one MSL championship. And last season, Tatu and the Sidekicks produced the worst record in the league, 20-32.
"I don't want to go through another season like that one," Tatu said, as his son gurgled. "Points don't mean anything if you don't win. If I didn't have this little guy, I don't know how I would have gotten through last season. We'd lose and I would be so low. Then I'd come out of the locker room and see this little guy and the game was over, forgotten. But I don't want to go through it again."