Blast coach Kenny Cooper and Major Soccer League commissioner Earl Foreman are working to put the "I" back into the MSL. But this time, instead of Indoor, the I will stand for International.
Just a month removed from what could have been the death knell for the league, Cooper and Foreman are edging toward making England the first international participant. Birmingham and Sheffield both have new indoor stadia and high interest in becoming members.
"I've made two trips this summer working on this," Cooper said yesterday. "It is no more difficult to fly to England, than it is to fly to San Diego or Tacoma. It's a real possibility."
Since returning from England last week, Cooper had been hospitalized with a blood clot in his leg. Complications arose when the clot broke in two and part of it reached his lungs. He has lost 15 pounds. But yesterday tests showed the clots dissolving, and he was given his release. Within an hour he was at Blast practice, and talking enthusiastically of expansion.
"It is a dream I've been pursuing for 10 years," said Cooper, who grew up in Blackpool, England, "and it has the very real possibility of becoming a reality."
Foreman agrees with Cooper. "Expansion to England is reasonable and I believe viable," said Foreman. "We have to do some arithmetic on travel, but I saw how we were received there last year and there is a tremendous amount of enthusiasm.
"I guess, depending on who you talk to, you'll get different views. But I have an enormous FAX in front of me that came in today from over there. I'm encouraged by what I see and what I hear and we're going to continue to explore it."
The MSL, through the efforts of San Diego Sockers owner Oscar Ancira Jr., also is exploring the possibilities of teams in Mexico City and Monterrey.
"The Mexico situation isn't as far along as the one in England," said Foreman, who plans to visit both countries for one-on-one discussions by January. "But it is going forward and I'm delighted."
While in England, Cooper also helped work out an agreement to have MSL games televised by satellite to Great Britain this season, further familiarizing the country with the American-style
game. And the Blast is making plans to participate in an indoor tournament in Birmingham in January.
Both Cooper and Foreman acknowledge the news of possible international expansion will be difficult for some to swallow because of the problems in the league this past summer. In August, Kansas City folded and Pittsburgh postponed entering the league with an expansion franchise until at least next season.
"Everybody thinks that because of those setbacks, there is no light at the end of the tunnel," Cooper said. "But there are two teams in England with sincere interest, with beautiful new indoor arenas and monied owners who want to pursue this."
The MSL already has done a feasibility study in Great Britain, which showed fan interest and an abundance of available players. The league also has a representative there, Graham Walker, the former marketing manager for the English Football League, who is helping to coordinate the possible expansion.