Indoor soccer enjoyed a renaissance in Cleveland last season.
The Crunch made a dramatic run from last place to first in the Eastern Division and advanced to the Major Soccer League championship series before losing to the San Diego Sockers in six games.
High-scoring Crunch forwards Zoran Karic and Hector Marinaro were the toast of the city.
But somehow young midfielder Joe Koziol, a product of Loyola College, got lost in the shuffle and didn't get to dress for any of the six championship games.
The experience was so devastating for Koziol that he packed his bags and headed back to Baltimore last spring, vowing never to play in Cleveland again and thinking about retiring at the age of 24.
"I was ready to get my resume and look for a 9-to-5 job," said Koziol, who signed with the Baltimore Blast last Aug. 19. "I felt alienated from the team in the championship series. And when I did get a chance to play in the regular season, I was just going through the motions. I was just a body out there. My confidence was wrecked. I worked my butt off in practice but nothing happened."
Koziol was used sparingly in 20 games by Crunch coaches Kai Haaskivi and Trevor Dawkins last season. He had three goals and three assists.
In two years in Cleveland, Koziol played briefly in 50 games and had 10 goals and five assists.
About the only good thing he remembers in Cleveland was "Koziol's Klan," a group of seven loyal fans who adopted him and sit together at all the home games with the banner in front of them.
"Koziol's Klan" has remained faithful to its hero, returning to Richfield Coliseum in Richfield, Ohio, last Saturday to watch Koziol play for the first time in a Blast uniform against the Crunch.
What they saw was a rejuvenated player who is getting a full chance to prove he has a long-term future in the game.
In seven games for the 3-4 Blast, who will meet the Wichita Wings in Wichita, Kan., tomorrow night, Koziol has scored six points on four goals and two assists to equal his 1990-91 points total in Cleveland.
Half of those points, two goals, one assist, came against the seven-time MSL champion Sockers Nov. 16 in an 8-7 Baltimore victory at the Baltimore Arena.
It was the second time this season Koziol has scored two goals in one game, prompting coach Kenny Cooper to predict a bright future for him.
"Joe Koziol has the pace and skill to go by people," said Cooper. "He has the speed to set up three-on-two and two-on-one breaks for us. He has unlimited potential and is a skillful American player. Most people say there are outstanding American goalkeepers and defenders but no outstanding midfielders or forwards. I believe Joe Koziol disproves that theory."
Cooper said he keeps giving Koziol little pep talks to rebuild his confidence that was "shattered in Cleveland. I couldn't believe they didn't play him."
Koziol said he is slowly regaining his confidence with the Blast.
"I'm beginning to believe I'm just as good as the guy next to me and I'm not afraid to go to the goal," said Koziol, a product of Passaic, N.J., who started for four years at Loyola and helped the Greyhounds make it to three NCAA tournaments.
"My speed and high work rate are my specialties and I have decent skills," he said. "I'm working on my defensive play. Sometimes I get caught ball watching. I'm trying to be an outstanding two-way player like Brian Quinn," the longtime superb midfielder for the San Diego Sockers.
NOTES: The Blast was scheduled to fly to Wichita this morning at 10, conduct a light practice and then have a Thanksgiving dinner compliments of owner Ed Hale at the Airport Hilton late this afternoon.
"That's a class move by the owner," said Cooper. "We always seem to wind up on the road at Thanksgiving, but Ed Hale is making it easier for all of us."