Cooper loosens his tie, but Blast can't shed stubborn losing collar


KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- With his team in the midst of one of its most frustrating slumps ever, Kenny Cooper did something he has never done in 11 seasons as coach of the Baltimore Blast.

He didn't wear the red necktie.

Yep, the signature red -- the color Cooper has devotedly worn for every Blast game in history -- was around the neck of backup goalkeeper Hank Henry in a trade the two had made before last night's game against the Kansas City Comets.

"It's been a crazy season, so I thought I'd try a crazy thing," said Cooper, sporting Henry's gray-and-maroon necktie. "I have 26 red ties. This is the first time I've done this."

Guess what? It didn't work.

The Blast was defeated 5-4 by the Comets in front of 8,279 fans at Kemper Arena. The loss, the 10th in the last 11 games, was the 17th this season by one goal, a Blast record.

Time is running out, and the Blast is feeling the pressure. With the victory, the Comets clinched second place in the MSL Eastern Division. For the Blast (20-28) the loss further engraves the fact it will finish with a losing record for only the second time in history. Remember 1987-88, the year the Blast was 25-31?

But Cooper's team is in danger of doing one worse. It could miss the playoffs for the first time.

The Blast has a one-game lead over the Wichita Wings (19-29) with four games to play. And because the Wings already have clinched the season series five games to three, the Blast must clinch first place outright. No ties.

Cooper knows that. So does goalkeeper Scott Manning, who dropped his 15th game.

"We no longer can afford to lose because we no longer have that margin of error," said Manning, who faced 22 shots and made eight saves. "That's a cold slap in the face."

So was trailing the Comets all last night, although the Blast pulled to within one goal four times. The Blast was down 4-2 going into the fourth period, but got sixth-attacker goals from Dale Mitchell and Mike Stankovic with 1:56 and 1 minute to go, respectively. But in between their goals was a 120-foot line drive with 1:20 to play by Comets defender Doug Neely against Billy Ronson and the Blast's sixth-attacker unit.

"The game tonight was a carbon copy of all of our one-goal losses," Cooper said. "We played our hearts out and the [players] have got nothing to show for it. Rusty Troy hit the post and the crossbar, what, four times?"

At least. The Blast was so close on so many of its 33 shots that defender Bruce Savage said afterward that he wanted to bang his head against the post.

"We're wondering if we're living right," Savage said. "Right now, everybody's feeling it. The only thing we've got going right now is that we've got talented players and that spirit is good. No, we won't quit."

Perhaps things will change Friday night, when the Blast travels to St. Louis to take on the Storm.

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