To ex-coach Haaskivi, playing's the thing Fired behind bench, he lights flame on field


Kai Haaskivi walked into his Cleveland home the other day after a two-hour workout and asked his wife, Maarit, "What do I do for the rest of the day?"

The former Baltimore Blast midfielder is just a player these days, having been fired as the Cleveland Crunch's coach eight games ago.

"I know now why coaches have always said that being a player is the easiest job," said Haaskivi, who comes to town tonight with the Crunch for a 7:30 game at the Baltimore Arena. "Two hours and you're done. As a coach, I spent 24 hours a day looking at film, dealing with players and thinking about what we could do to improve the team."

During his 1 1/2 seasons as player-coach for the Crunch, Haaskivi had a 27-46 record.

Asked about the adage that it's impossible to succeed as a player-coach, he said yesterday: "I don't know. I never had a chance to find out [injuries forced Haaskivi, the player, to miss 30 of the 73 games he was the coach]."

Haaskivi said he's not bitter.

"I can't look at anything negative about coaching but my record," he said. "I knew the rules when I signed [a two-year contract as player-coach]. Guys with lousy records get the boot. I look back at it as a tremendous experience and a great opportunity. Having to start the franchise [expansion team in summer of 1989] from scratch, to buy the pencil and paper and sign the first player didn't make things easy. But it was something I'll never forget."

Haaskivi, who is third on the all-time Major Soccer League scoring list, has six points (one goal, five assists) in the past two games and was named Offensive Player of the Week in the MSL last week.

His play has helped the Crunch win five of its past eight under new head coach Trevor Dawkins.

"My mind is free of coaching, and that helps me play better," said Haaskivi. "But it hasn't freed me from getting hurt [his broken left wrist is in a cast]. Fortunately, I can play with this one [arthroscopic knee surgery kept him out of 18 games early in season]."

Earlier in the season, Haaskivi had a run-in with longtime friend and teammate Mike Sweeney, a Crunch midfielder and former Blast midfielder.

Haaskivi said: "I've known Mike for 10 years and it was a different situation to be dealing with him as a coach to a player instead of player to player. But it's over now, and I'll pass the ball to Mike when we're on the field."

Crunch management suspended Sweeney for four weeks and tried to trade him after the run-in with Haaskivi. But all possible trades fell through, and Sweeney has been reinstated.

Haaskivi said: "I'm not sure what was going on with Mike and management. When I was coaching, they were looking to trade him, but when I was fired, they stopped looking for a trade."

Sweeney said the entire situation was "more a problem with management than with Kai."

Blast tonight

Opponent: Cleveland Crunch

Site: Baltimore Arena, 7:35 p.m.

Radio: WCAO (600 AM)

Tickets: 4,000 remaining

Outlook: Cleveland has won five of its past eight to move into a virtual tie with Wichita in the battle for the final playoff spot in the MSL Eastern Division. The Crunch will be playing without former Loyola College star MF Joe Koziol (pulled hamstring) and F Rudy Pikuzinski (strep throat). The Blast has lost two straight. MF Billy Ronson (25 goals, 26 assists) leads the Blast in scoring.

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