Baltimore-Cleveland rivalry is a real blast from the past

February 12, 1993|By Doug Brown | Doug Brown,Staff Writer

Jason Dieter was a regular in those days. He and his father had Blast season tickets in section 227, front row. In the mid-1980s, Dieter seldom missed a game.

He was a teen-ager then, a budding soccer star at Archbishop Curley High. He was like a half-dozen other players now on the Spirit -- kids growing up in Baltimore who idolized the Blast.

The Blast's games with the Cleveland Force were big. They were often sellouts, just as tomorrow's might be against another Cleveland team -- the Crunch. The advance ticket sale of 9,000 assures the Spirit of its largest crowd of the season.

"It'll seem like old times, only this time I'll be playing," said Barry Stitz, who also grew up a Blast fan.

"Cleveland was my next favorite team to the Blast," Stitz said. "I liked their uniforms and their players -- Keith Furphy, Craig Allen, Carl Valentine, Kai Haaskivi. I always went to those games. They were the other model franchise."

Roberto Ascenzi, at 21 the Spirit's youngest player, "lived for the Blast" when he was at Archbishop Curley.

He remembers a Blast-Force game here before a packed house. It was the fifth and deciding game of the Major Soccer League semifinals, with the winner destined to play the San Diego Sockers in the final.

"The Blast was three goals behind with 16 minutes to go," Ascenzi said. "Then they scored four unanswered goals to win. Phenomenal. The whole time, the fans got louder and louder, never stopping. It was neat to be part of it."

The Cleveland-Baltimore indoor soccer rivalry began in 1982. Mike Stankovic, now a Spirit coach, likens it to the Colts-New York Giants games of the late 1950s. The Spirit has won two of three meetings this season, the last time 17-9 on Jan. 10.

"We have to play that way again -- to win and not just to avoid making mistakes and survive," Tim Wittman said. "We all ran and contributed. I mean, we played."

Coach Kenny Cooper has reveled in several big soccer moments this season, the first when the Spirit opened its season before 15,000 fans in Milwaukee. Another was last month in Harrisburg when, although it would be a Spirit defeat, he could "feel the electricity when we walked in the place and could tell it would be a happening."

This week has been another of those moments. Usually when friends and fans approach Cooper they ask which team the Spirit plays next.

This week they've said, "It's Cleveland, right?"

Right.

4 "That," Cooper said, "is the way it used to be."

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