Spirit's home-grown Nichols gets boost from family on the road

November 21, 1992|By Marc Bouchard | Marc Bouchard,Contributing Writer

When Baltimore Spirit rookie defender Stephen Nichols scored his first professional goal Saturday in Cleveland, it was something of a family affair.

Shortly before the Spirit's 17-14 victory over the Crunch, Nichols learned that his father and uncle had made the 5 1/2 -hour, 340-mile trip from Baltimore to the Cleveland State Convocation Center.

"I knew he was either going to have the best game of his life or the worst [because of their presence]," said George Nichols, Steve's father. "I think it got him fired up.

Minutes into the second quarter, Nichols was fed a perfect pass from Joe Koziol and scored his first goal in the National Professional Soccer League.

"I knew I could play [professionally]," said Nichols. "But getting that first goal really helped me with confidence."

Nichols was signed by the Spirit after coach Kenny Cooper and vice president Drew Forrester watched him play in a club game in August.

"It was a Friday night and I happened to have a good game," said Nichols. "We were missing some players, so I needed to do some things I don't normally do. Drew called me Sunday and I signed Monday morning."

Nichols is one of the reasons that the Spirit is in first place in the NPSL's American Division with a 3-0 record. Baltimore plays host to Buffalo tonight at the Baltimore Arena at 7:35.

"Steve has a good work ethic, and that's what makes him stand out," said Cooper. "He is hungry to learn and goes about his job in a quiet manner."

Nichols comes from a soccer-playing family. His father, who moved to Baltimore from Greece when he was 16, played at Poly, andhis uncle, John, played at Patterson High and UMBC.

"I guess that's why Steve stuck with soccer," said George Nichols, who owns Casa Mia's restaurants in Towson and White Marsh. "We were always playing. [Steve] was playing with 35- and 40-year-old players when he was 16."

Nichols played varsity soccer, baseball and basketball at Boys' Latin before becoming a standout sweeper for Loyola College's soccer team.

"I grew up watching my uncle play," said Steve Nichols. "My mom wanted me to go to an Ivy League school, but all I cared about was soccer."

Nichols' transition to the indoor game was made easier by some more experienced members of the Spirit.

"[Former Blast player and current Spirit assistant coach] Mike Stankovich keeps me after practice to teach me," said Nichols. "He and Kenny [Cooper] always stick around to show me some things.

"And [Spirit goalie] Cris Vaccaro has helped me with positioning on defense."

Nichols is one of three new starters with local ties. Rookies Jason Dieter (UMBC) and Barry Stitz (Towson State) have also made the staring lineup.

"Having local guys really adds something," said Nichols, whose family held Blast season tickets for 10 years. "It gives fans a reason to come to the games."

Cooper agrees that local players give the Spirit an added attraction.

"When fans see a local player do well, they say, 'That could be me,' or 'That could happen to my son,' " said Cooper. "It's a dream come true to play in your hometown."

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