Free to score, Spirit's Koziol finds success in faster game Former Loyola star off to quick start

November 13, 1992|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,Staff Writer

Freedom of expression.

For the first time, Joe Koziol has his share of it, and he doesn't want to let go.

Two games into the National Professional Soccer League season, the new-found freedom has enabled Koziol to thrive, and the undefeated Spirit is collecting the benefits.

The former Loyola College All-American is tied for the team lead with three goals and is looking more and more like an offensive force.

Not bad for a midfielder.

"I hope it continues," said Koziol, who also scored three goals in the Spirit's preseason victory over the Harrisburg Heat.

"The reason is a combination of things, more freedom to do what I want mainly. I'm not in a restricted environment. And the overall makeup of the [NPSL] game makes for a faster pace. It's conducive to my style."

Koziol, a New Jersey native, is in his fourth pro season. The first two -- at Cleveland -- were undistinguished, but last season with the Blast he gave a portent of things to come with 18 regular-season goals.

"Joe is just a player with enormous talent, a very creative player," said Spirit coach Kenny Cooper. "He asked to be allowed to express that and we permitted him to do that within the system. He wants a lot of touches on the ball and we've given them to him."

Koziol has gotten stronger with the ball and better on defense. He now completes individual plays that he once only started.

So, Koziol figures to be a factor again tomorrow night when the Baltimore-Cleveland soccer rivalry is renewed against the Crunch.

"I always like going in there. It's a strong rivalry and I'm in the middle because I've been on both ends," said Koziol. "I still have a pretty good following there and I'd like to let them know that maybe they made a mistake by letting me go.

"But I wasn't bitter about it. If I had played more, I might have stayed there. Here, I got a chance."

"They drafted before us, so we couldn't get him then," said Cooper. "But any time they played us, he hurt us. This is where Joe belongs, in Baltimore. The environment is perfect. In Cleveland, it wasn't."

Koziol played for two NCAA tournament teams at Loyola and still serves as an assistant coach at the school. His presence with the Spirit is another indication of the accent on local, rather than foreign, players.

"I think this league is more adaptable to the fans," he said of the NPSL rules designed to increase scoring and action. "We're here to put on a show."

He agrees wholeheartedly with the local flavor and said that the seven rookies who are Baltimore natives "are not on the roster for publicity purposes. They can play. So you benefit two ways.

"If you structure your team with a lot of foreigners [as the Blast did], no one here can relate. But these guys have grown up through the local leagues and everyone knows them."

Koziol is on the verge of becoming a headliner as the goals mount. But that is not his major objective.

"Goals are only feathers in your cap," he said. "If I play and don't score, but walk off feeling good about myself, it doesn't matter. I'll be very happy if I don't score another goal and our team does very well."

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