Blast, Cooper hit ground running in their bid to win over England

January 29, 1992|By Sandra McKee

Blast coach Kenny Cooper was no sooner off the plane in England before he began a series of meetings designed to take the Blast to Manchester for an international tournament in May. When Cooper's team arrived it began a series of indoor soccer clinics, appearances and interviews leading into tonight's challenge game against Sheffield Wednesday.

All of it is designed to sell American-made indoor soccer to the British.

"If we don't do it, they'll create their own indoor teams and league," Cooper said of the indoor game he has been promoting for more than 13 years. "We're going to show them exactly what this game is all about."

A year ago, when the Blast played in Birmingham and defeated Oldham Athletic, one of Britain's top outdoor teams, the two clubs played under international rules. This time, it is the MSL's rules that will be used. And to give the crowd a true sense of the game here, Blast announcer Bill Roth will call the game in the new Sheffield Arena.

Some rock music fans may have gotten an idea about the MSL last night, when the group Simply Red took the stage for a sold-out concert wearing Blast jerseys and kicked out soccer balls.

"The NHL is looking at these new arenas being built," Cooper said. "But we have an advantage, because soccer is the game everyone in England plays. We don't have to convert people in England like we do in the States. And the outdoor clubs and organizations don't seem to hold resentment for the indoor game the way they sometimes do here. When we beat Oldham, 6-1, there last year, it was the major talk in their sports circles."

Cooper, who was born in Blackpool, has been the leading force in the Major Soccer League's talk of expansion to England. He sees it as the next step, and he sees it clearly.

He sees the new arenas being built as an opportunity. He believes with the World Cup scheduled here in 1994, European companies are searching for vehicles to open doors in America. The MSL is one route. With the English Football League in the midst of reorganizing its 92 teams, he says players will be available to stock one or more indoor teams.

He knows this expansion idea, supported by Blast owner Ed Hale and MSL commissioner Earl Foreman, has critics and doubters. In San Diego, Sockers coach Ron Newman wonders how his team can possibly take an East Coast road trip that includes England. In Tacoma, Stars vice president Sam Naccarato is blunt in his disdain.

"We are all hanging on by a thread, and now he wants to expand to England," Naccarato said. "We've been chasing soccer gold all over this country for 13, 14 years, and we haven't found it yet. Now we're going to fly to England? Let me tell you, the pile of gold isn't in England."

But, in Dallas, coach and managing partner Gordon Jago isn't so sure.

"Dreams do come true," Jago said. "I think in the long term, a six-team division in England could work. I think, in the long term, we have a much better chance of making our game go oversees than the World Football League or any other pro sport here, because they're already playing our game outdoors."

It is an idea that keeps Cooper campaigning. He can see a time when there is a Western Division that plays in Mexico and Canada as well as in the United States and a Midwest and Eastern Division that extends to England and perhaps Eastern Canada. The two divisions wouldn't meet until the playoffs.

"Maybe some teams decide to do something else," Cooper said. Maybe we lose a Tacoma. Maybe they go do their own thing somewhere else. I know they don't like it, but does that mean we don't go forward?

"The only real question that everyone is asking is will it work? We'll see. This game is a test. Will the people come to see it? I think they will. They started selling tickets last weekend and in three days they'd sold 5,000. We think we can have a sellout [8,700]."

Hale, as the chairman of the MSL's executive committee, has been meeting with Sheffield and Manchester representatives on this trip and Cooper said a presentation will be made at the MSL executive meetings in Baltimore next month.

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