Baltimore soccer officially at beginning again with a new Spirit NPSL entry debuts in Milwaukee

November 06, 1992|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,Staff Writer

With the thought that the Blast is past, Baltimore's latest professional soccer team plunges into new territory this weekend with renewed vigor.

The Spirit -- born 10 days after the death of the Major Soccer League last summer -- makes its away and home debuts within a 23-hour span, beginning tonight when it visits the Milwaukee Wave.

Tomorrow night, the Baltimore Arena will be host to the first official National Professional Soccer League game here -- against the Chicago Power, the league's National Division champion last season.

"We'll be playing before 14 or 15,000 in Milwaukee," Spirit coach Kenny Cooper said. "And both teams are very strong. So right off the bat we'll find out where we are."

The testing ground for the Spirit is the rules of NPSL, which are designed to increase scoring totals and action. Included are one-, two- and three-point goals and a restart where the ball last touched a player, not where it went out of bounds.

That will require some adjustments by the players, but they showed their adaptability by beating the Harrisburg Heat, 21-7, in a preseason game at the Arena that was opened free to the public.

Selling the game is a much greater challenge for Cooper, who said, "we still have a long way to go. We have no divine right to expect people to come see us play. But we worked very hard in the off-season, and we're expecting a very positive year."

The Spirit, with its blend of MSL veterans and precocious youth, is anticipating a contending team, and winning begets crowds.

Furthermore, the game received a warm reception from the 3,493 fans who attended the exhibition, and the Spirit is planning to reach out in many ways, including a greeting of fans at the gate from the players and coaches before the home opener.

And it doesn't hurt to have eight Baltimore-born players on the 16-man roster, the very familiar Tim Wittman and seven first-time professionals itching to go.

"The most important thing is that soccer has continued. That is an endorsement," said Cooper, always a passionate booster. "It's a great feeling to know people care. For us, this is a political campaign, and we're going to be reaching out to everybody.

"We want our games as places to be seen, the way it was in the early '80s. And we think they'll find this entertaining. The last team that scores usually wins the game. And I promise you, we'll have a team that gets up and down the floor."

But Cooper realizes the Spirit is a new kid on the block in an established neighborhood. Despite a balanced roster, victories may not come so easily at first.

"This is a very competitive league, but I expect us to be a contender," he said. "I have belief and faith in these young players. These guys have earned their way onto this roster."

The Spirit will take 14 of its 16-man team to Milwaukee with Baltimoreans Billy Reinhardt and Roberto Ascenzi bowing in at home.

Veteran Cris Vaccaro, a 13-year professional, will start in goal tonight and Cooper expects to play the veterans extensively at first.

"This is a new opportunity, a new legacy," he said. "There is a lot of fun in going off in another direction. Soccer has survived here through many difficult times, but now we have a chance to do different things. It's like starting all over again."

Spirit roster

No. Name Pos Ht Wt Age Birthplace Exp.

Cris Vaccaro GK 6-0 175 34 Camden, N.J. 13

1 Brian Hartlove GK 6-2 175 27 Baltimore 1

2 Eric Dade D 6-0 175 22 Buffalo, N.Y. 1

4 Rusty Troy F 6-0 190 26 Irving, Texas 5

6 Steve Nichols D 5-8 150 23 Baltimore 1

8 Joe Koziol MF 5-8 155 26 Passaic, N.J. 4

9 Goran Hunjak MF 5-8 155 27 Zagreb, Yugo. 5

11 Roberto Ascenzi MF 5-9 160 21 Baltimore 1

12 Steve Boardman D 6-0 160 27 La Jolla, Cal. 6

13 Michael King F 6-0 175 29 London, England 7

15 Doug Neely MF 5-11 160 27 Garden Rove, Cal. 6

17 Tim Wittman M/D 5-7 145 29 Baltimore 12

19 Jason Dieter D 6-1 165 22 Baltimore 1

20 Mike Conway F 5-10 170 24 Baltimore 1

21 Barry Stiltz MF 5-11 165 23 Baltimore 1

24 Billy Reinhardt MF 5-7 145 22 Baltimore 1

Spirit tonight

Opponent: Milwaukee Wave

Site: Bradley Center, Milwaukee

Time: 8:30

TV: Home Team Sports

Outlook: This is the regular-season NPSL debut of the Spirit, which has a mix of veterans and eager youngsters. The Spirit defeated the Harrisburg Heat, 21-7, in an exhibition at home last weekend and will return home for tomorrow night's home opener against the Chicago Power. Cris Vaccaro, a 12-year MSL veteran, will start in goal for the Spirit. Milwaukee has a new coach in Keith Tozer, the league's all-time leader with 144 coaching victories. It also has a revamped roster after failing to win the division title for the eighth time last year. The key player is Joey Kirk, the league's ninth-ranked scorer in 1991-92.

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