Blast from the past isn't sure he's spark team needs now

November 13, 1991|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Evening Sun Staff

Kai Haaskivi was beside himself last night. "Just sitting here flipping coins," he said. "Digging for bones." Trying to sort through his emotions and reach a decision fair to all sides.

Blast coach Kenny Cooper has asked Haaskivi, the veteran All-Star midfielder, to join the Blast and help create some offense. With his team 1-4, Cooper is not waiting for miracles. He's trying to create some.

Besides Haaskivi, Blast vice president Drew Forrester said he is also trying to reach Maryland Bays forward Jean Harbor. The Blast and Harbor reached an impasse during the preseason, but Cooper said then the door was not closed, and meant it.

Haaskivi, who will be 36 on Dec. 28, is coming off major surgery on his right knee. He has passed all the tests. The strength of his quad muscles and his hamstring in his right leg are stronger than before the March 26 surgery. He has been working out with the Cleveland Crunch for the last six weeks.

"I have no worries about Haaskivi," said Cooper, when asked about Haaskivi's ability to do the job. "He can hold the ball and pick out people with it. He can still control the tempo of a game. With one leg, Kai's better than a lot of other guys are with two."

This weekend Haaskivi said he will play against the San Diego Sockers. The only question is will he play against them Friday night in Cleveland or Saturday night in Baltimore?

For Haaskivi, it is a many-sided question and his thoughtfulness goes well beyond the concerns of most professional athletes.

"This is killing me," he said last night from his Cleveland home. "On one hand I have Kenny Cooper, who has always been fair and good to me and is the one who brings the best out of me. To me, he is the top motivator in our game. He always wakes me up."

And Cooper has believed in Haaskivi's ability since they first met in 1978 in Dallas. Last summer, when few believed Haaskivi could recover from major surgery at his age to play again, Cooper was already on the phone talking to him, discussing when he would be ready to come back and whether he could fit into the Blast's plans.

On the other side, is Cleveland and general manager Al Miller, who approached the idea of Haaskivi's comeback as an impossibility, going so far as to retire his No. 12 jersey. This summer, Miller continued to consider a comeback impossible and is now calling "my coming back a miracle," Haaskivi says.

"Cleveland has so many good players -- Karic, Hoggan, Marinaro, King -- I would be just another player," said Haaskivi. "It would give me more time to come back, but I've never seen myself that way. When I play, I like to be in control and run the show. I've never seen myself as just one of the supporting cast. That ain't me, babe. That's a song title, right. I like to have to show up every night. I've always enjoyed the challenge. The expectations would definitely be different between the two teams. Kenny

would expect me to carry a big load. Here, I'd have to bring myself along without much pressure."

One would think the answer would be easy. He likes to run the show, the Blast needs an impact player to take charge. Perfect fit, right? Not quite.

"I know Kenny truly believes in me," said Haaskivi. "And that's what makes it so tough. I know the top part of me won't let him down. But, who can guarantee my long-term durability? I'd hate to let him down. The last guy in the world I want to let down is Kenny. If I come there, I want to be able to deliver. I was a coach for a year and a half, and I know what it's like to depend on a player and have them let you down."

Haaskivi remembers the last time he played for the Blast. It was the 1988-89 and the Blast went all the way to the championship series against the San Diego Sockers.

"I think the goal post is still shaking," he said, recalling Game 7 in the Baltimore Arena. "I still can't believe I hit the post three times [in a 6-5 loss that gave San Diego its fifth Major Soccer League championship]. If there was ever unfinished business, I have it in Baltimore."

So last night, he sat there, wondering if he is worth the Blast's gamble. "Just sitting here, stuck in this fork in my little road," he said. "I'm agonizing over this. It ain't easy being me. Hey, that's a song too, isn't it? What is this? Name that tune?"

If it is, the Blast is hoping Kai Haaskivi comes up singing, "Maryland, My Maryland."

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