After summer save, MSL goes on attack

October 18, 1991|By Bill Free

Even the eternal optimist, Baltimore Blast coach Kenny Cooper, said the Major Soccer League reached an all-time low on Aug. 7 when it came within five minutes of folding.

It took a late decision by former owner Donald Carter to return as majority owner of the Dallas Sidekicks to save the MSL for a 14th season, which will begin tomorrow night when the Blast plays the Sidekicks at 7:35 at the Baltimore Arena.

The Blast and Sidekicks will have the stage to themselves on opening night. The rest of the league won't begin play until next week.

The revival of the Dallas franchise, which had ceased operations at the end of last season, gave the league owners the seven teams they said were necessary to remain in operation.

The deal for Carter to finance the Sidekicks was completed five minutes before the owners were prepared to go on a conference call and call it quits after 13 seasons.

The move by Carter ended a summer of turmoil that included the surprising shutdown of the Kansas City Comets, the exit of the expansion Pittsburgh Spirit franchise before it drafted a player or named a coach, and season-ticket drives to keep the Wichita Wings and seven-time MSL champion San Diego Sockers in operation.

Kansas City had been considered one of the stronger franchises in the MSL, leading the league three times in attendance and finishing second six times in 10 years of operation.

Only four teams (the Blast, Cleveland Crunch, St. Louis Storm and Tacoma Stars) didn't face serious threats to their existence.

Now, the debate is on as to how to pump life into what some regard as a dying product.

Oscar Ancira Jr., the new San Diego Sockers managing general partner, and Ron Newman, his coach, want to put Argentine great Diego Maradona in a Sockers uniform as soon as the Federation Internationale de Football Association, world soccer's governing body, lifts his suspension.

Maradona, considered the greatest soccer player in the world, has been suspended by FIFA until next summer for drug possession charges in Italy and Argentina.

Ancira has traveled to Argentina to meet with Maradona's agent in an attempt to prove he is serious about what most people believe is a pipe dream.

Unanswered is how a league with an annual salary cap of $60,000 per team can entice Maradona to play for it.

Cooper scoffed at the San Diego-Maradona talk.

"I know what Ron's trying to do," Cooper said of Newman. "It's a publicity stunt. No matter what it is, I'm against Maradona playing in the MSL, and I've expressed it at the league level. The MSL is based on wholesome, family entertainment. Our job is to promote role models, not parole models [a reference to Maradona's record of drug problems].

"What difference would it make if Maradona comes into the Baltimore Arena and scores five goals? He doesn't present the right image for youngsters, and it would leave a bad taste in a lot of people's mouths."

Cooper said Maradona wouldn't guarantee the MSL success, and that the league needs a superstar the magnitude of a Pele (now retired), who "represents everything the game is about."

Until a Pele comes along, Cooper says the best move the MSL can make is to expand into England.

"We [the MSL] aren't totally accepted like we should be in the U.S.," said Cooper. "We have some loyal fans and sponsors, but people don't want to accept us. We need someone else like England to make the people here appreciate us more. The presence of a couple of teams from England might wake up this country to the game of indoor soccer."

Cooper would like the MSL to expand into Sheffield and Birmingham next season and have six teams in England by 1994.

Cooper, Blast owner Ed Hale and MSL commissioner Earl Foreman will meet with three English expansion representatives this weekend in Baltimore.

The English contingent will include Graham Walker, the MSL's international consultant; Richard Callicott, who represents TC seat indoor arena in Birmingham; and Roy Redman, a potential investor for a Sheffield franchise.

"Expansion to England is reasonable and, I believe, viable," Foreman said. "We have to do some arithmetic with the travel, but I saw personally how the MSL was received there last year, and there was a tremendous amount of enthusiasm."

NOTES: The MSL headquarters will move from Kansas City, Mo., to Baltimore on Nov. 15. The offices will be in the Bank of Baltimore building at 120 E. Baltimore St. Hale recently won a fight to take over Baltimore Bancorp, the parent company of the Bank of Baltimore. . . . The Blast will permanently retire the No. 3 worn by Mike Reynolds tomorrow night at the season opener. Reynolds died after suffering a massive stroke July 1. The team's Unsung Hero award will be known as the Mike Reynolds Trophy.

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