Baltimore Blast coach Kenny Cooper, angered over the team's 1-4 start, said yesterday he was looking toward veteran Major Soccer League midfielder Kai Haaskivi and young Maryland Bays forward Jean Harbor in an attempt to jump-start the sluggish Blast offense.
Cooper said he has had several discussions with Haaskivi, including a 30-minute conversation last night, and he plans to meet with Harbor in the next couple of days.
"We're one or two players away," said Cooper. "Kai Haaskivi is the kind of player who can set our offense up by holding the ball until the right moment. He's an impact player. And Jean Harbor is untapped talent. We believe he is strong enough to score in this league. We never closed the door on Jean Harbor" after an ill-fated attempt to bring him into training camp late in September.
Haaskivi, 35, said last night from Cleveland that he would decide by this morning whether he would sign with the Blast or return to the Cleveland Crunch, where he played and coached the past two seasons.
Cooper, who bruised his hand yesterday when he slammed it into a blackboard at Myers Pavilion in a fit of anger during a team meeting, said sheepishly: "I lost an argument with a blackboard. I usually do."
The outburst came as Cooper was telling his players he wouldn't tolerate mental errors and was not prepared to go through another painful losing season like last year (21-31).
"The 11 new players saw the other side of me today," said Cooper. "There's no more Mr. Nice Guy. They have an understanding of what I'm about. What has happened is we have a bunch of guys coming in here from other teams wanting to do well but not really being intense."
According to Cooper, he has asked goalkeeper Cris Vaccaro and defender Iain Fraser to be more vocal.
The Blast coach also said that midfielder Waad Hirmez "is playing his way into shape. He was brought here [from the San Diego Sockers] to be an impact player and hasn't been one. This isn't San Diego. We don't have a Brian Quinn, so we can't play the same kind of game San Diego plays."
Cooper said that he likes Hirmez being vocal and confident, but the other players on the team feel "if you're going to be vocal, you better do the job."
Cooper said if he signed Haaskivi (third on the all-time MSL scoring list) he would have to release an experienced player to fit Haaskivi into the team's salary cap.
Haaskivi played for Baltimore in the 1988-89 season, when the Blast almost won the MSL championship. Haaskivi hit the post twice on shots in the final minutes of Game 7 in the MSL championship series against the Sockers when Baltimore was trying to overcome a 6-5 deficit at the Baltimore Arena.
Haaskivi had reconstructive right knee surgery to repair anterior cruciate ligament damage last March 22 and wasn't given clearance to play by the doctors until Nov. 1.
Haaskivi said the Blast had given him a better financial offer than Cleveland to sign for the rest of the 1991-92 season, but he has to determine if it is worth the extra money to leave his wife and two young children at home in Cleveland the next five months.
"My wife [Maarit] and I have already decided that they would stay in Cleveland if I sign with Baltimore," said Haaskivi. "My 5-year-old son [Olli] is in a real nice school out here and we don't want to take him out of it. He loves it."
Haaskivi said if he decides to come to Baltimore it will be because "Kenny has stuck by me a lot. He believed last summer I would be back playing again while in Cleveland they were counting me out. Kenny is the ultimate motivator. I kind of miss it. He wouldn't let me miss any games in 1988-89 and I'm proud that I played in all 48 games and every playoff game."