The Baltimore Blast still was trying to work out a deal to trade Paul Wright to the San Diego Sockers or another Major Soccer League team last night after arbitrator George Nicolau ruled yesterday that Wright was not a free agent and must be compensated $12,500 in back salary by Baltimore.
Baltimore was hoping to trade Wright to San Diego for cash or possibly draft choices because the team was not sure if it wanted to "modify" its roster to accommodate Wright's $60,000-a-year salary.
The Blast also was in contact with another MSL team, most likely the Dallas Sidekicks, about a trade.
Drew Forrester, the Blast director of soccer operations, said: "I'm not saying we don't want Paul Wright. What I'm saying is after the whole incident is: 'Will it be a distraction? Does he really want to come to Baltimore, and can we fit him into our team salary cap?' "
Blast coach Kenny Cooper reacted angrily to the compensation ruling, saying: "The system stinks. It's unfair. It will open the door for all kind of things. I believe in an honest day's work for an honest day's pay."
The $12,500 was awarded to Wright for 2 1/2 months' pay (July 1-Sept. 15) based on his San Diego contract, which the Blast inherited when it claimed the midfielder on waivers late in June.
Nicolau said the Blast did not have to pay Wright from Sept. 15 until the date he comes to Baltimore and passes a physical. The arbitrator said the Blast must send Wright an airline ticket for Baltimore by tomorrow morning if he is not traded to another team by that time.
"I'll be on that flight as soon as I get the ticket," said Wright. "I feel like I won. The main thing I wanted was my money, and I got that. I never said I wouldn't play in Baltimore."
Wright's contract with Baltimore began July 1, but the Blast said it could not pay him until he reported to Baltimore for a physical and made appearances as other players on the team were required to do.
Wright said his San Diego contract didn't require him to make appearances in the off-season and that he didn't want to leave his mother, who was ill in San Diego.
When Wright didn't receive his pay for July and August, he refused to report to training camp Sept. 17 and was placed on the suspended list without pay. The Blast put together a 16-man squad without him.
Now Cooper said he might not want to break up that team to accommodate Wright, even though "he is the quickest player in the league and maybe in the world."
Cooper said: "We did everything the right way within the system. We picked up a player on waivers, called him up and told him he had to report to be paid and he [Wright] understood at the time. Then, a couple of days later, he was acting completely different and said he wasn't interested. Someone talked to him, and it all turned out to be an exercise in futility."
Asked if he thought it was someone connected with San Diego who talked to Wright, Cooper said: "Yes I do. I believe it was San Diego."
Cooper's accusation that San Diego might have prompted Wright to be unwilling to report to Baltimore will add fuel to the fiery disagreement between Cooper and San Diego coach Ron Newman.
Newman said Tuesday night that Cooper and the Blast were "morally wrong but legally right" for picking up Wright on waivers since he had been released by former Sockers owners Ron Fowler and Ron Cady when they were trying to unload the franchise.
"Kenny Cooper promised me he would send Wright back to San Diego if Baltimore claimed him," said Newman. "But then he said he couldn't because his owner [Ed Hale] wouldn't allow him to."
In response to Newman's charges, Cooper said: "I was in no position to promise anybody anything. We're trying to put together a contender here, and we couldn't afford to let Wright slip by. The only reason we claimed Wright was because Cleveland claimed him first. We would have abided by Ron's wishes and not picked Paul Wright up if all the other teams had."
Baltimore had a right to supersede Cleveland's claim because the Blast had a poorer record than the Crunch.
Newman said Tuesday night that Baltimore "wanted a lot of money and my house" before it would send Wright back to San Diego, a contention Forrester denied.
Cooper said there was a possibility Wright would play tomorrow night for the Blast against the Wings in Wichita, Kan., if a trade was not worked out.