Cooper: unforgettable and back in town


Joe Mallia played for Kenny Cooper for only a month, with the old Blast in 1991, but the coach left an indelible impression on the young goalie.

"He demands a lot of professionalism from his players and he doesn't accept losing," Mallia said.

That's putting it mildly. Spirit coach Dave MacWilliams vividly recalls a halftime tirade. Such outbursts were routine, but this one had a humorous twist.

"Kenny is animated and he gets excited," MacWilliams said. "Well, he was yelling and trying to shake us up. Emphasizing a point, he kicked at a cardboard box and got his foot stuck. He gave his foot a few shakes, but the box wouldn't come off.

"Even Kenny finally had to smile. One thing's certain: He got his point across."

After 14 years as the soccer guru of Baltimore, Cooper returns with a new team. He is coaching the Tampa Bay Terror, the National Professional Soccer League's expansion team that will play the Spirit tonight at 7:35 at the Baltimore Arena.

"I always respected him," said Lance Johnson, who was a Spirit rookie in 1993-94, Cooper's last season here. "He was nice to me. I'm looking forward to seeing him -- and beating him."

Spirit players and coaches alike regard Cooper as intense, a master motivator who always has his team ready to play. It wasn't always during games that he displayed his fiery behavior.

"The most angry I ever saw him -- aside from after losses -- was when a plane to Dayton took off from BWI without us," said Barry Stitz. "We're at the counter waiting for a woman taking her sweet time to give us boarding passes.

"We look out the window and there's the plane doors closing. Then it's pulling onto the runway. Kenny was furious as he tried to get the passes from the woman. He banged his fist on the counter -- and broke his watch."

The team was obliged to catch a later plane.

Stitz and Jason Dieter broke into pro soccer as Spirit rookies under Cooper in 1992. Cooper tended to criticize young players more than veterans, and thought they didn't come of age until they were on a championship team.

"Eric Dade was a young guy on the team, too, but during the summer between our first and second seasons he played for the Dallas Sidekicks that won the Continental Indoor Soccer League championship," Dieter said. "That made a difference how Kenny regarded him."

When goalie Cris Vaccaro, who's in his 16th year of indoor soccer, thinks of Cooper, he envisions a man who did more than anyone for indoor soccer in Baltimore.

And one more thing. "He was the best coach I ever had," Vaccaro said.

Spirit tonight

Opponent: Tampa Bay Terror

Site: Baltimore Arena

Time: 7:35

Radio: WWLG (1360 AM), WASA (1330 AM)

Outlook: The game marks the return of former Spirit president-general manager-coach Kenny Cooper, now coaching the Tampa Bay Terror, the National Professional Soccer League's expansion team. The Spirit's Franklin McIntosh, the NPSL's Offensive Player of the Month for October, is tied for the league points lead with 13. For the unbeaten Spirit, Brad Smith (sprained knee), Omid Namazi (sprained ankle) and goalie Cris Vaccaro (hyper-extended elbow) are doubtful. Joe Mallia will be in the goal for the third straight game.

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