New challege with Spirit brings out Vaccaro's best

December 10, 1992|By Doug Brown | Doug Brown,Staff Writer

Maybe it's because this probably will be Cris Vaccaro's las stop. Maybe it's because he has never won a pro championship. Maybe it's because he is stimulated by the different rules.

Whatever the reason, the Spirit's goalkeeper is, in coach Kenny Cooper's estimation, acting like "a man on a mission."

It shows in the National Professional Soccer League standings. The Spirit (6-1), behind regular starter Vaccaro, is the league's winningest team as it awaits Sunday's game here against the Denver Thunder.

Vaccaro, a 34-year-old native of Camden, N.J., is in his 13th pro season since wrapping up a college career that started at Mercer Community College and ended in 1980 at the University of Baltimore.

He has played indoor soccer from coast to coast, and is in his second term in Baltimore after breaking in with the Blast in 1981. In between, whether it was Cleveland, Chicago, Tacoma or Wichita, Cooper kept an eye on Vaccaro.

"This is the best I've seen him play," Cooper said. "He's in good condition, never gets flustered and seems stimulated by the NPSL game."

One of the differences between the NPSL and the now-defunct Major Soccer League -- in which Vaccaro played for 12 years -- is that there are more shootout challenges for a goalie. A shootout is awarded for all time penalties except misconduct and unsportsmanlike conduct.

On a shootout, Vaccaro has no help, forced to face the kicker one-on-one. But he has thwarted eight of 11 shootouts this season.

"I've been fortunate, because the advantage in such situations is to the shooter," Vaccaro said. "Sometimes it's a guessing game, since I don't know the styles of all the players.

"I'm not pleased about having more shootouts, but it can be rewarding. Stopping one can change the momentum of a game, motivate your team and take the gas out of the other."

Cooper likes Vaccaro's demeanor when he braces for a shootout: "He seems to be saying, 'You'll have to beat me because I'm not going to beat myself.' He never dives or over-anticipates."

Vaccaro is known for his uniform No. 0 ("No. 1, customary for a goalie when I was growing up, was already chosen when I was with New Jersey in 1981") and flashy jerseys. They are designed by his wife, Maureen. The two have signed a contract with Brine Inc. to manufacture them under the Vaccaro name.

"I didn't like the shirts I used to wear," Vaccaro said. "The fit wasn't right."

On game nights, he changes shirts two or three times, first after warm-ups. By then, Vaccaro has his game face on, oblivious to all but the task ahead.

"I used to always put my right sock on first, superstitious things like that," Vaccaro said. "I stopped that, but I do go through the same warm-up routine, the same stretching, the same jogging."

Cooper says there is a time before the game when Vaccaro doesn't talk to anyone and no one talks to him. That is part of the preparation.

"He's in his own world, totally focused," Cooper said. "Cris approaches the game in such a clinical way."

Much like a man on a mission.

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