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THE National Professional Soccer League's season is...


THE National Professional Soccer League's season is once again winding to a close and Baltimore Spirit fans can only shake their heads and wonder at the difference a year makes.

An announcer on ESPN 2 called the Spirit's new game "artistic" and "free-flowing." Some might call it a "free-for-all." Are the Spirit's new players passionate, or do they just have a bad attitude? That may be a matter of opinion, but the fact is Baltimore soccer has certainly been different since Kenny Cooper left town.

Spirit fans knew they were in for a change this season. After all, Mr. Cooper had dominated soccer in Baltimore for 14 years as coach of the Blast and then the Spirit. At the end of last season he and owner Bill Stealey "agreed to disagree" and Mr. Cooper stepped down. Changes were inevitable.

While fans have come to accept the rough and tumble outdoor style of Mr. Cooper's replacement, Dave MacWilliams, the change in the Spirit's standing is less easy to swallow. The Spirit won two American Division regular-season championships in its two seasons under Mr. Cooper -- but thanks to the Harrisburg Heat, the Cooper-led Spirit never made it past the first round of the playoffs.

This season, the Spirit won't even take the division and Harrisburg is once again breathing down the back of Baltimore's neck as the playoffs approach.

Last year, owner Bill Stealey said he wanted the Spirit to have a "more organized" style. He wanted a change from Mr. Cooper's "do or die" kind of soccer. He got what he wanted, but is he happy with the results?

Meanwhile, fans remember back to the good old days when Kenny Cooper was Baltimore's Mr. Soccer and every game was a good game, even when the Spirit lost.

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