All Sockers can expect back are few laughs


One of the best things about covering the Major Soccer League is how entertaining it can be.

It's the art of the deal, not the deal itself. It's the insinuations. The promises: made or imagined; kept or broken.

The latest bit of "Saturday Night Live" material comes from San Diego Sockers coach Ron Newman, who said yesterday that Blast coach Kenny Cooper promised to give forward Paul Wright back to the Sockers, if they had a franchise.

Newman, of course, is the coach of the Blast's most fierce nemesis. The Sockers are the team that beats the Blast to a pulp in the MSL's championship series every time it gets a chance. It's four and counting, and the last time, 1990, it was Wright who did most of the damage.

Call David Letterman for his Top 10 Reasons why Blast management would never freely give Wright back to Newman.

Now Wright is owned by the Blast. He may or may not play here. He was due in town yesterday, but told Blast management he needs to wrap up some commitments in San Diego. The Blast must decide how long to wait before taking stronger action, which would result in Wright's suspension.

But the bottom line is Wright is the fastest man in the MSL and his contract is owned by the Blast.

He can play for no other team this season. And next season, the Blast would have the right of first refusal.

Yesterday, Newman said he has written a letter asking MSL commissioner Earl Foreman to disallow all player transactions until all ownership situations in the league are stabilized.

Evidently, there may be more instability in this league than anyone wants to talk about, but that's another story.

"I know players can go where they like," Newman said. "But every club should be on equal footing. The way it is, some clubs could be picked clean while ownerships are being settled."

This voice of concern is obviously keyed by Newman's unhappiness over the loss of Wright, "a valuable player to our franchise whose loss could cost us season ticket sales."

When ownership problems surfaced in San Diego this spring, Wright was the only player with a contract for next season. If the Sockers had folded, former San Diego owner Ron Fowler could have been personally responsible for Wright's contract, estimated at about $60,000 for the coming year.

To avoid the problem, Wright was placed on waivers.

At that point, Newman called every other MSL club and asked that no one claim him.

Cleveland claimed him.

Last week, Newman rode an elephant through downtown San Diego, because the circus was coming to town: "They needed someone to lead the parade and I'll do anything to sell season tickets," he said. But it is difficult to imagine Newman being so naive as to believe what he says next.

"I had an understanding with Kenny that he'd get Paul off Cleveland and give him back to us," Newman said.

Only in the MSL.

Not even in the MSL, countered Cooper.

"I think Ron is putting words in my mouth," Cooper said. "I know Ron real well and I think there is a side of him that feels he has a divine right to win. All I told Ron was that we wouldn't take him that day."

The Blast had agreed not to pick up Wright, as long as no one else did, but once Cleveland had claimed him off the waiver list, the Blast felt the situation had changed.

"Paul Wright is a high quality player," Cooper said. "Cleveland was about to call a major press conference to announce his acquisition. It didn't sound like they were going to give him back."

After a management meeting that included owner Ed Hale, the Blast exercised its right to pick up Wright and he was awarded to Baltimore, because it had a worst record than Cleveland last season.

"I understand Ron's concerns," Cooper said. "But, as I told him, there are more teams in the league than San Diego. We had the worst record in our history last season, for us to start being sympathetic to other people's needs . . ."

Cooper didn't say it, but it really is mind-boggling. Just as mind-boggling as it is to imagine Ron Newman believing the Blast would return a player of Wright's quality to its arch-rival.

It's such a good gag, one almost hopes the Blast did put one over. But Newman insists he had the promise and believed in it.

"I feel betrayed," he said with sadness.

I feel a fit of laughter coming on.

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