Former Blast star Stan Stamenkovic, regarded as one of the greatest indoor soccer players ever, died Sunday after suffering a severe head injury in a fall at his home in Titova Uzice, Serbia.
Stamenkovic, who would have turned 40 tomorrow, was the key member of the Blast's 1983-84 Major Indoor Soccer League championship team, capturing the league scoring title with 97 points.
He was the league's and Blast's MVP that season, and was the Blast's MVP the next two seasons as well. He played a total of four seasons for the Blast. After leaving Baltimore in 1988, Stamenkovic only dabbled in indoor soccer in this country.
"Stan was one of my closer friends," said the Spirit's Mike Stankovic, glancing at his 1983-84 championship ring that he wore yesterday in memory of Stamenkovic. "I wish I could play with him one more time. It is partly because of his great ability that indoor soccer is where it is today."
Stamenkovic is survived by his wife, Vera, and two children. After talking briefly by phone with Vera, Stankovic called ex-Blast coach Kenny Cooper, now coach of the Tampa Bay Terror, at 4:30 a.m. yesterday.
"This has been the worst day, hearing about Stan," Cooper said. "In Belgrade, he was known as the next Pele. Here, he was The Magician. He was an artist, a Picasso. Stan was a one-in-a-lifetime player."
After the Blast lost to San Diego in the 1983 MISL finals, owner Bernie Rodin asked Cooper what the team needed to put it over the top.
"A guy who can win a game on individual brilliance when it's on the line," Cooper said, and mentioned Julie Vee, Steve Zungul and Stamenkovic.
Cooper went to Belgrade, wooed Stamenkovic and signed him to a three-year contract. With Stamenkovic feeding Tim Wittman, Paul Kitson and Pat Ercoli -- and scoring goals himself -- the Blast stormed to the MISL championship.
"People used to ask him how he did it," Cooper said. "Stan would always say, 'It's a gift from God. I can't explain it.' "