Home is where the Spirit's start is

November 02, 1993|By Doug Brown | Doug Brown,Staff Writer

When Spirit newcomer Dan O'Keefe first looked at the team's National Professional Soccer League schedule, his eyes lighted up.

Fourteen of the Spirit's first 20 games are at the Baltimore Arena. The fact that only two of the final 10 games of the regular season are at home is something to worry about later.

"If we're sharp, we have a good chance to get off to a 7-0 start," said O'Keefe, the NPSL's all-time leading goal scorer who had one goal in his Spirit debut, last Friday's 13-8 victory over the Chicago Power. "The only two road games this month are at Harrisburg and Canton."

Tales of the Spirit's difficulties against the Harrisburg Heat last season puzzle O'Keefe. The Spirit, which will play the Heat twice this month -- Nov. 12 on the road and Nov. 19 here -- was 2-5 against Harrisburg last year, including a two-game sweep that knocked it out of the opening round of the playoffs.

"When I was with Detroit, we had Harrisburg's number," O'Keefe said. "In the semifinals two years ago, we killed them. Any team I've played for is confident against Harrisburg. I don't expect that to change."

Spirit coach Kenny Cooper points out that all the teams in his 14 years in Baltimore have had a preponderance of home games early in the season. Part of the reason is that the Arena has more events later -- a major one being the circus -- in the indoor soccer season.

"It doesn't guarantee a championship just because you get off on the right foot," Cooper said. "But by playing at home early, and winning, it builds awareness, credibility and a foundation."

The Spirit won late as well as early at home last season, finishing with an 18-2 record. The team hasn't lost a regular-season game at the Arena since Jan. 23. "That's intimidating to other teams," O'Keefe said. "A strong record, home or away, can work in your favor."

Marinaro erupts early

New season, same old Hector Marinaro.

The league's scoring champion and Most Valuable Player last season, Marinaro is off to a rousing start. In the Cleveland Crunch's 23-12 opening victory over Harrisburg, Marinaro scored 11 points.

Marinaro is at his familiar place atop the scoring list. The Spirit's Paul Wright, who had seven points against Chicago, is tied for fifth.

The Spirit's Cris Vaccaro is the top-rated goalie after giving up eight points in the win over Chicago.

"Any time you hold a team to eight points, it says the defense is doing a lot of things right," Cooper said. "People say Wright's an offensive-minded player, but look at the two blocks he made."

NOTES: In the preseason coaches poll, the Spirit and the Wichita Wings were picked to repeat as American and National division champions, respectively. The coaches predicted Wichita will xTC beat Baltimore in the championship series. Both teams lost in the first round of the playoffs last season. . . . With the Skipjacks gone, the Spirit has prime dates -- 12 Fridays, six Saturdays and two holiday-week Wednesdays -- Nov. 24 and Dec. 29.

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