Spirit's Cooper counts time as one way to win Prompt practices are key, he says

February 19, 1993|By Doug Brown | Doug Brown,Staff Writer

Spirit coach Kenny Cooper was not amused when he saw a few players arrive for practice the other day at 10:25 a.m. They were five minutes early.

There were no harsh words, no threats of a fine. Just a reminder that 10:25 wasn't early enough: "By the way, some of you guys strolled in late."

Late? "Like Vince Lombardi said, 'If you're on time, you're already five minutes late,' " Spirit trainer Marty McGinty said. "Just because the team's 20-6 doesn't mean Kenny's going to let up on the guys."

In his 13th season in Baltimore but his first in the NPSL, Cooper has assembled perhaps his most interesting team. He has players from the old Major Soccer League, some of those from the Blast, and seven rookies who grew up in Baltimore.

They have blended nicely, and, though an expansion team, the Spirit has prospered. Entering tonight's road game against the Dayton Dynamo, the Spirit's 20-6 record is the best in the 13-team NPSL.

"You look around the league, all teams have established players and some young ones," said Doug Neely, named yesterday to the American Division squad for the NPSL All-Star Game March 9. "It's the young guys who make or break a team. Kenny saw the talents in the kids we have."

One reason Cooper was annoyed when players walked in at 10:25 for practice was that they missed the doughnuts. Players and coaches take turns bringing doughnuts for the team's pre-practice social.

"That's quality time, 10 minutes together as a team," said Cooper, who will coach the American Division team in the All-Star Game. "We don't start practice without doughnuts."

Long known as a coach strong on motivation and creating a positive attitude, Cooper stresses little things as much when a team is winning as when it's losing.

"We're 20-6, but last week we had our hardest week of practice of the season," Neely said. "He doesn't want anyone to think they can get away with the little stuff. It all comes down to discipline."

In all his years in soccer, Neely, 27, never had a practice like the one Cooper conducted recently.

Almost all of it was devoted to the speedy changing of lines. Cooper had noticed that players going on the field were leaving the bench from the same point as those coming off.

"He pointed out that the guy coming off should come in at one end of the bench and the guy going on should go out at the other end," Neely said. "That way, we have a 10-foot head start. you don't do that, it allows the other team to attack without opposition, start a fast break. The line changes have to be timed perfectly, and that's why he made it the theme of practice."

Cooper said: "It's amazing how much people can do when they're pushed. If you don't work on certain areas of your game, that will be the one that will let you down."

Kevin Smith, a 30-year-old veteran who joined the team in midseason, notes, without complaint, that Cooper is coaching as if the Spirit were 6-20. "He won't let anything slip," Smith said. "He's on our case all the time."

Cooper pushes himself, as well. The other night, he and assistant coach Mike Stankovic and vice president Drew Forrester scouted two amateur teams at Du Burns Arena, even though the game didn't start until 11 p.m. and they had to catch a plane early the next day.

Baltimore is a good soccer city, he said. Might be another kid out there who can help the Spirit.

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