A fan favorite returns to Arena Kitson having blast playing for Denver

December 13, 1992|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Staff Writer

Denver Thunder player/coach Paul Kitson, Baltimore and soccer go back a long way. All the way back to Baltimore's only professional indoor championship season.

The season was 1983-84, the team was the Baltimore Blast, and the main attraction was superstar Stan Stamenkovic.

But there on the wing was Kitson.

"I'll never forget the dance he used to do when he scored a goal," said Kitson's former Blast teammate and now Spirit midfielder Tim Wittman. "I can still see him doing his moonwalk."

Kitson did a lot of moonwalking that season. He led the team with 36 goals and the league in game-winning-goals with seven.

Nine years later, he is back at the Arena. And, like the last time fans saw him play here, he is wearing an out-of-town jersey.

Kitson is player/coach for the Denver Thunder, which is 3-5 in the National Professional Soccer League. Though his team's record is off, Kitson's play has been on.

Kitson, 36, leads Denver in scoring with 19 points. He has six two-point goals, three one-pointers and four assists. Included in that number is a shootout goal and a game-winner.

Since Kitson joined the NPSL in the fall of 1990, he has had a soccer rebirth of sorts.

In his first season, he was his team's Most Valuable Player in Rockford, Ill., and was MVP of the All-Star Game as well.

Last year, his first full year as coach, the Thunder was picked to finish last, but made the playoffs with a 20-20 record.

"Winning the All-Star MVP was something I had never been able to do in the MSL [Major Soccer League]," said Kitson, who played three seasons for the Blast before moving on to Los Angeles and Cleveland. "The closest I ever came was [1985], when I had that hat trick, but Stan won MVP and got the car. When I won the MVP in 1990 know what I got? A trophy and a handshake."

Kitson is good-natured, which helps when dealing with his old friends on the Blast.

"I figure something's fishy," said Spirit vice president Drew Forrester when he heard Kitson is leading the Thunder in scoring. "He's the coach, and I guess the coach never takes him out of the game.

"Actually, I saw Paul play in a preseason tournament, and he can still play. And he's always had the knack of scoring big goals."

There was the hat trick he scored for the Blast against Pittsburgh in that championship season that started the team on a streak in which it won 21 of its last 24 games.

And there was the game-winner he scored against Minnesota at the Arena, after which he celebrated by getting his 5-foot boa constrictor, Tara, out of his equipment bag and carrying it around the floor.

The fans here loved him, and evidently still do. The last time Kitson played in the Arena, he scored twice for Cleveland and received a standing ovation.

"Yeah, I'll never forget that night," said Kitson, who left the Blast for Los Angeles and a $110,000 contract in 1986-87. "My family had driven down from New Jersey and when I was introduced I got a standing ovation from the crowd, and they cheered after both of my goals. It's one of the highlights of my career."

Kitson doesn't know if he'll have a night like that tonight, but Wittman doesn't rule it out.

"What he's doing doesn't surprise me," said Wittman, the only member of the Spirit to have played with Kitson here. "He's smart, and he's got speed and experience that can expose the weaknesses of a lot of young guys. He's 36 years old. He's like George Foreman. He keeps coming back, and you can never count him out."

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