The Baltimore Blast will take a look at former Major Soccer League All-Star midfielder Ali Kazemaini today, to see if he is the answer to the team's midfield problem in the absence of the injured Mike Stankovic.
"All the years he has played against us, he has played very well," said Blast coach Kenny Cooper, who will look at Kazemaini over the next three days. "He's a good passer. He has vision, skill and experience. The question is whether he wants to pay the price to play in our system."
When Stankovic underwent knee surgery last week and was lost for the season, the Blast lost its play-making midfielder. Cooper decided to take a look at what he had last weekend, to see whether someone on the roster could fill the role. But after a 10-6 loss in St. Louis Friday and a heartbreaking 4-3 overtime loss to the San Diego Sockers Sunday, Cooper wasted little time yesterday.
First he tried to talk midfielder Mike Sweeney, formerly with the Cleveland Crunch, out of retirement, but Sweeney, who played with with the Blast in 1988-89, said no. Sweeney, who turned 32 Christmas Day, said he was disappointed things had not worked out this season with the Crunch, but that he was pursuing business interests in and out of soccer.
"Mike was at the top of my list," Cooper said. "He would have fit in well here and had an immediate impact. But he just feels his playing days are over. I tried to persuade him, but once he said no, we had to look someplace else."
After a slow start, the Blast had battled to two games over .500, but then goalkeeper Cris Vaccaro was forced to miss two games after taking a shot full in the face, and then Stankovic was hurt, all of which sent the Blast on a three-game losing streak. After Sunday's loss, the team is two games below .500 and the loser in five of its past six games.
"Ali is good on the ball," Cooper said. "He can create three-vs.-two breakaways. No one is going to replace Mike Stankovic, but Ali can help. He has great composure. The only question is will he fit in with our high work rate. That's what we want to find out over the next few days."
Blast fans will remember Kazemaini, a 28-year-old native of Iran, when he was a mainstay with the old Cleveland Force. From 1984-85 through 1987-88, he was counted on to open up the midfield and start Cleveland rolling. In 1985-86, he had a career-best 38 goals and 21 assists for 59 points.
"Those were great old days," Kazemaini recalled last night, after arriving here. "Baltimore and Cleveland, we were the class franchises of the league. Real pros. If things were to work out here, it would be a great opportunity for me."
After two workmanlike seasons with the Tacoma Stars, Kazemaini returned to Cleveland last season. He became an American citizen, which pleased him, but his playing time was limited due to bone spurs. He produced two goals and eight assists during the regular season, but came alive in the playoffs with four goals and four assists in 13 games.
"He didn't really fully recover from the bone spur problem until late in the season," said Cleveland spokesman Scott Hood. "When we got to the playoffs, he played really well, especially on the power-play team, where he created a lot of chances for us."