Spirit's Koziol makes most of 2nd chance 3rd-leading scorer fills King void

January 21, 1993|By Doug Brown | Doug Brown,Staff Writer

Joe Koziol was a free agent, no longer wanted by the Cleveland Crunch, when he returned to Baltimore in 1991.

A native of Passaic, N.J., Koziol had spent his college years here, at Loyola. He was the third player taken in the 1989 Major Soccer League draft, but after two seasons Cleveland didn't re-sign him.

"I thought I was done," Koziol said of his pro indoor soccer career. "I figured I'd come to Baltimore and settle down, work up a resume and find a real job."

He was spared that fate when Kenny Cooper, then the Blast coach, signed him. After a productive year that included six two-goal games in the MSL's final season, Koziol is midway through another, this one with the Spirit of the National Professional Soccer League.

As the Spirit, the NPSL's winningest team (15-4), prepares for its road game against the Harrisburg Heat tomorrow night, Koziol is the team's hottest scorer.

In the past four games, he has scored 16 points for a total of 52, third on the team behind Goran Hunjak (79) and Rusty Troy (71). He is on the verge of cracking the league's top 20. His spurt began after Michael King, who was the No. 3 scorer, suffered a season-ending knee injury.

"I'm not doing anything different, except working harder because Mike is hurt," said Koziol. "I try to get as many touches [of the ball] as possible, although not in the greedy sense. The idea is to pass and set up teammates, not just score myself."

When Koziol was with Cleveland, Cooper tried several times to trade for him. Based on what Koziol showed in games against the Blast, Cooper was intrigued by his "huge" potential.

"He either wasn't being used right or not being used at all," Cooper said. "We'd talk to Cleveland about acquiring him, but then they'd have injuries and Joe would be playing again."

Cooper sees Koziol's recent scoring spurt as a breakthrough. In his fourth pro season, Koziol, 25, is becoming a force.

"In the past, he didn't believe in himself," Cooper said. "We've tried to instill in him that he can be explosive, a game-winner.

"When things weren't going our way, he used to act as if there wasn't much he could do about it. Now, he analyzes why things aren't going our way and decides maybe he can be the difference. He never stops running."

Koziol began playing soccer at age 5, following the lead of his brother Stan, two years older. Although he was recruited by Virginia, Rutgers and Connecticut coming out of Clifton (N.J.) High, Koziol chose Loyola because Stan was there.

"After I got there, I came to realize the facilities, coach [Bill Sento] and academics were excellent, too," Koziol said.

A four-year starter, Koziol twice led the Greyhounds into the NCAA tournament quarterfinals, where they lost to Duke in 1986 and North Carolina the next year. En route to both quarterfinals, Loyola had the satisfaction of knocking off Virginia, ranked No. 1 both years.

"Ironic, wasn't it?" Koziol said. "I certainly didn't have any regrets about not going to Virginia after we beat them twice in the tournament."

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