Seeking to reach 'next level,' Cooper looking for a leader


The Blast hit the practice field at 9:30 a.m. today, pushed on by a very disappointed coach.

Kenny Cooper has reason to be disgruntled.

His team was in first place going into Saturday night's gamagainst the defending Major Soccer League champion San Diego Sockers at the Arena.

On Thursday, the Blast had won a big road game in Dallas, 6-5to put itself in position to go three games over .500. It was playing at home against a Sockers club that was, for the moment, below .500.

The Blast had every reason to be up for the game. Playing SaDiego, the Blast players even had the luxury of knowing exactly what the Sockers would do: counter attack.

But the Blast came out flat in the first half. It fell behind 3-0, anfinally lost 5-4, after rallying to within a goal with a little over six NTC minutes to play.

The Blast's loss means Kansas City (11-8) is again alone at thtop of the Eastern Division, with a one-game lead over the Blast (10-9), even though the Comets have won only twice in their last nine games.

"We're like the second-best team in the league and maybe fothis team it's enough," said Cooper. "If it hadn't been for Scott [goalkeeper Scott Manning], we would have been 10 goals down at the half . . . We cannot make the mistakes we make."

Ironically, some of the Blast's best veterans made some of thosmistakes.

Richard Chinapoo and Mike Stankovic were guilty of holding thball too long, being too fancy with the dribble, while the Sockers played a simple, pass-oriented game that got the ball upfield quickly.

Cooper was particularly irritated by Stankovic, whom he tolbefore the game to avoid fouls. Instead, Stankovic was called twice for two-minute penalties in the first quarter, and Cooper told his defender not to bother to play in the second half.

"We talked about penalties," said Cooper. "We talked abouchanging lines only when we had possession of the ball, and Richard comes off when they have it and it turns into a goal."

Stankovic admitted San Diego played "a more stable game,while Chinapoo said, "I guess San Diego enjoys playing in this building. They've been in so many games here, they look forward to playing high quality soccer here."

Everything has to be right for the Blast to beat the SockersThat's the way it has always been.

But when two-on-one and three-on-one breaks get nothingsomething is definitely wrong.

"I can't play for them," said Cooper. "Their big players come ubig in big games and ours don't. Even when they're winning like they were in this game, Brian Quinn is going crazy out there, yelling at his guys to keep it simple."

It was the Blast's sixth one-goal loss of the season.

"The game is in our grasp for the next level," said Cooper. "Buwe don't go there. Our players don't always come to play. We're on the fringe. Someone needs to come through and grab on, grab it and take us to the next level. But no one has."

* HAASKIVI SAFE: Cleveland coach Kai Haaskivi, who admits his job is on the line, should be safe for the holidays, following his team's 11-6 victory over San Diego Friday.

In that game Zoran Karic set a club record by scoring six goalswhich tied him for second-most goals in a game in the MSL. Four players have scored seven in a game: Gene Geimer (Cincinnati Kids, 1979), Steve Zungul (New York Arrows, 1981), Joey Fink (Blast, 1982) and Eric Rasmussen (Wichita, 1986).

"I'm not worried about my job," Haaskivi said. "That doesn'mean I don't take it seriously. It's just that I realize, after an hour and a half meeting with our owners and coaches, that you can worry about it for 24 hours a day, or you can just do what you always do -- your best -- and after that, it is out of your hands."

Haaskivi signed two contracts at the start of this year. One as coach and one as a player. He said if he is fired, he has no problem with suiting up for a new Crunch coach.

* COMETS WIN ONE: After losing four in a row and seven of theilast nine, the Kansas City Comets beat St. Louis, 6-4, Saturday.

Friday, against the same team, K.C. lost, 6-5. During that gamethe Storm's Thompson Usiyan took the league lead in power-play goals with six . . . Comet Jan Goossens recorded his 200th assist, and his teammate Claudio DeOliveira scored his second hat trick in back-to-back games. Saturday, Comet Ted Eck notched his first hat trick of the season, and Usiyan got his 200th career goal.

* TIGHTENING UP: When Tacoma lost 8-4 to the Wichita WingSaturday, it allowed St. Louis to remain within two games of the Western leader and let San Diego close to within 2 1/2 .

The Wings got two goals each from Chico Borja, Dale Ervine anOmar Gomez . . . Tacoma goalkeeper Chris Vaccaro (10-6, 4.25 goals-against average) remains the MSL goalkeeping leader despite the loss.

* MANNING BREAKS IN: The Blast's Manning has finally playeenough minutes to be eligible for the league's goalkeeping standings. Manning breaks into the Top 10 at 10 this week, with a 5-5 record and a 6.01 GAA.

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