Baltimore Blast coach Kenny Cooper said yesterday that he would work to keep a professional soccer franchise here, but it may have to come under new ownership.
Ed Hale, who has owned the Blast for the past three years, said he would keep his options open but ruled out playing in the upcoming Arena or Continental leagues, which are scheduled to begin play next summer.
The 14-year-old Major Soccer League ceased operation yesterday after failing to secure a sixth team for the 1992-93 season. The Blast is the second professional soccer team in the state to close up shop this year.
On Jan. 20, owners of the Maryland Bays announced the outdoor team was folding. The Bays won the 1990 championship of the American Professional Soccer League.
"As I understand it, the Arena League is strictly a regional kind of thing," said Hale. "The Continental League is going to play in the summer, and I don't think indoor soccer would work in Baltimore in the summer. There are a lot of other options here in the summer -- the Orioles, the beach. If I could help out in any way, I would offer to help someone else, but I wouldn't have any interest in owning a team in that league."
"I'm sure there will be discussions [about Baltimore joining another league], and I'm going to keep my options open," said Hale.
That would leave the Blast with at least two other options, possibly the five-team American Professional Soccer League or the indoor National Professional Soccer League.
Observers say at least part of the MSL's troubles were related to competition from the non-union NPSL. The two leagues did not compete in the same cities, but the competition for sponsors, advertisers and expansion cities is fierce.
The league just added its 10th city, one that the MSL had courted heavily: Buffalo, N.Y.
Cooper, who recently completed his 12th season with the team, said he will meet with Hale and Drew Forrester, the team's vice president of soccer operations, Monday to begin discussing the team's future.
"I've already talked briefly with Ed, and he knows I'm committed to keeping professional soccer in Baltimore," said Cooper. "The Blast and San Diego were looked upon as the league's model franchises. I've been in this business for 20 some years, and I didn't burn my bridges. I'll be calling and making some contacts with people over the weekend."
"If I have to play in the summer, then that's what I'll do," said Cooper, added that the team will continue to have its summer camps. "If we have to form an international league, then that's what we'll do. It's been a great journey and great experience in Baltimore. You can tell the fans here love soccer. We've closed one door; it just means we have to open another."
MSL commissioner Earl Foreman said yesterday that several owners, including Donald Carter of the Dallas Sidekicks, would remain in business.
San Diego Sockers coach Ron Newman said yesterday there have already been discussions among several of the owners to bring back the league in some capacity.
"Cities like San Diego, Baltimore, Wichita, Cleveland, they love soccer," said Newman. "People love our product. We just need a little push in the right direction. Baltimore will have a soccer team -- you can count on it. Coops won't let it die."
Meanwhile, several Blast players were shocked that the league folded despite problems during the past five years which annually brought the MSL close to shutting down.
"I'm kind of disappointed, too," said Blast forward Domenic Mobilio. "I really didn't expect the league to go under. Since I came here four years ago, there have always been problems, but they always figured out a way to solve them."
Other players were relieved.
"The league possibly folding has been an issue every summer, so you always made some kind of plans" said Blast forward Rusty Troy. "This time, we have to use them. The impact was kind of taken away because of what has happened before."
Defender Iain Fraser said: "I thought it would come to this. When St. Louis and Tacoma folded, reality set in. I knew it wasn't going to go. There were too many people working against it. I'm going to finish up the camps I'm doing with the Blast. Then I'll be heading back to Kansas City, where I played for five years, unless I can find something here."
Mobilio, as well as others like player/coach Mike Stankovic, said they will see what Blast management does within the next couple of days.
"I hope another league forms," said Mobilio. "If not, I could go to Europe, but there's not really too many other options right now. I want to see what their [Blast] intentions are. If there were another league, I would be more than willing to play."
For 12 seasons, it was a Blast
1980-81: Baltimore joins the Major Indoor Soccer League and finishes its first season in second place. Kenny Cooper begins his career as the only coach the Blast will ever have.