Wittman's return buoys Spirit of local soccer fans

The Inside Stuff

November 05, 1992|By Bill Tanton

There are a lot of good things about the new Baltimore team, the Spirit, that will open its first National Professional Soccer League season tomorrow in Milwaukee.

One of the best is that Tim Wittman, after a season in exile in San Diego, is back playing in his hometown.

"Timmy is where he belongs now," says Spirit coach Kenny Cooper, who was also coach of the Blast of the defunct Major Indoor League.

The soccer fans of Baltimore obviously agree. They proved that last Sunday when Wittman received the biggest cheer during the player introductions before an exhibition game at the Arena against Harrisburg.

The feeling is mutual, as far as Wittman is concerned.

Timmy didn't want to leave Baltimore in the first place, but he clashed with Blast owner Ed Hale. The next thing he knew he was playing 3,000 miles from home.

"It felt great to be cheered by the home fans again," says Wittman, who played 10 years for the Blast, was team captain and a league All-Star selection.

"I'm glad we're still playing professional soccer in Baltimore. There's a lot of interest in soccer around town. Baltimore is one of the best soccer towns in the country. Our under-19 kids just won the national championship. Eight of the 16 players were born and raised around Baltimore. That's the way it should have been a long time ago."

Wittman stays in touch with local soccer. He's an assistant coach at his alma mater, Calvert Hall, whose undefeated team played Mount St. Joe today in the MSA championship.

"Timmy had a great training camp and preseason for us," Cooper said. "Maybe the year in San Diego did him a world of good. Timmy was such an important part of the Blast and we're trying to rekindle that spirit. That's why we decided to keep the old Blast banners up at the Arena."

* Maryland's Mark Duffner, surely the most praised 2-7 coach in America, continues to win support from those who know their football.

One of those is Fred Kern, who played at Maryland in the 1950s, and later coached there and at other places, including West Point. Kern is completely sold on the new guy.

"Mark Duffner has more charisma than any Maryland coach since Jim Tatum, and I've known them all," says Kern, who is now in commercial real estate in Harford County. "Like Tatum, Duffner commands attention.

"The best player Maryland had last week was Mack Brown [North Carolina's coach]. That's how badly Duffner outcoached him.

"If Maryland can come within a touchdown now [31-24] of North Carolina, which has much better talent, what's Duffner going to be able to do two or three years from now after he recruits some talent? With any luck Maryland could be 5-4 right now."

* Jim Kehoe, retired athletic director at Maryland, is shocked by what he has heard in conversations this week with people from Penn State, whose football team has slumped to 6-3 and is coming off a 30-17 loss to Brigham Young.

Says Kehoe: "I can't believe what I'm hearing. Why, Penn State probably has the best football coach in the country in Joe Paterno, but he's lost a couple games and up there the knives are drawn and the blood is ready to flow."

There will be no blood shed if Penn State can come back and win at Notre Dame a week from Saturday.

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