The Baltimore Blast's search for an impact player centered on Jean Harbor yesterday after veteran midfielder Kai Haaskivi decided to return to the Cleveland Crunch this season instead of signing with the Blast.
"I'm staying home," said Haaskivi, who has lived in the Cleveland area since 1982. "It was a can't-lose decision for me. I could stay here with my family or play in Baltimore, where the fans were great to me in the 1988-89 season. I really appreciated Kenny [Cooper, Blast coach] and his enthusiasm for signing me. It was tough to turn down a chance to play for him again."
Meanwhile, it became apparent yesterday that a rift has developed between the Blast and midfielder Waad Hirmez, who met with Cooper yesterday at practice.
Last night, after a 2 1/2 -hour meeting with Harbor and his brother, Jonas, Blast vice president of soccer operations Drew Forrester said the two sides "were headed in the direction" of a contract agreement that would put the Maryland Bays for ward in a Blast uniform in time for Saturday night's game against the San Diego Sockers at the Baltimore Arena.
"There's a chance he will be in uniform Saturday night," said Forrester. "It's still up in the air. But we did go as far as working out a schedule for him to practice and play until he joins us full time [Harbor said he has to give his company two weeks' notice before leaving]. There are no conflicts that would prevent him from playing in any games during the next two weeks. We found out for sure that Jean is committed to playing indoor soccer for the Baltimore Blast."
Cooper and Blast assistant coach Mike Stankovic also attended the meeting with the Harbors.
Cooper said: "Jean can practice with us Saturday morning and play in the game Saturday night against San Diego if we work out the contract. He's the kind of athlete who can step right in and play. He's seen us play and knows what we expect from him."
Jonas Harbor, who serves as his brother's agent, said after the meeting: "I'd say we're close to an agreement. It could come tomorrow [today] or the next day. Management has to get everything ready and complete some paperwork. Money is no issue."
Cooper said last night that the Blast also was looking into the possibility of acquiring forward Michael King from the Crunch in a trade.
Meanwhile, a split has developed between Hirmez, the team's second-leading scorer with three goals and three assists, and Cooper in the past five days, and the two met behind closed doors yesterday at practice.
Before the meeting, Hirmez said he was hurt by Cooper's remarks in The Sun yesterday that said: "He [Hirmez] was brought here [from the Sockers] to be an impact player and hasn't been one. He's playing his way into shape. 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."
Hirmez said: "I don't tolerate things like that. We're 1-4. No one is doing the job, not just me."
But Hirmez said he still wanted to help the Blast turn the season around.
"My commitment is to Baltimore, and I'll stay here unless they arnot happy with me."
Cooper said: "Waad is on a different agenda than everybody else on the team and the coaching staff. Waad and I disagree on the approach to soccer. Waad's work habits are not close to the work habits of the Baltimore Blast. I was very sorry to hear him say that maybe the Blast should try turning it on for the playoffs like San Diego always does and not worry that much about the regular season."
Cooper said the other players on the Blast "think Waad talks too much. The old and new players think he should do it, instead of talking about it. It's become an issue with the players."
After returning from Sunday's 7-2 loss to the Sockers on the road, Hirmez said "things were not consistent" on the Blast.
"Elsewhere they are," said Hirmez. "Here, everything depends on whether we win, lose or how we practice. We had to run outdoors after losing to Dallas [in the season opener]. We're all adults and don't need to be punished for losing."
Hirmez said Cooper and the players communicate on the sidelines, but there is no one communicating on the floor.
"We need three or four guys to make sure everybody communicates on the floor," said Hirmez. "In the San Diego game, it looked as if we were at our first practice session of the season."
In response to Cooper's charges that he is not in shape, Hirmez said: "You can go up and down the field, but if you're not doing the right things it doesn't matter."
Haaskivi's decision hastened Baltimore's attempt to sign Harbor, a 6-foot-2, 195-pound Maryland Bays forward who is close to joining the U.S. national team.
Harbor said he most likely would take a six-month leave of absence to join the Blast.
Cooper said the Blast was ready to offer Harbor a guaranteed contract before he joins the team. That is what Harbor has been wanting for more than a year.
However, Cooper wouldn't discuss the sum of money the team would offer Harbor.
It is thought that Harbor is asking for approximately $45,000 a season in compensation for leaving his Rockville job.