Spirit ends 2-game skid with 19-8 romp

December 27, 1993|By Dale Meggas | Dale Meggas,Contributing Writer

CLEVELAND -- Paul Wright boosted the Baltimore offense with two goals and three assists and Rusty Troy and John Abe each added two goals to help the Spirit to a 19-8 win over the Cleveland Crunch before 5,286 at the Cleveland State Convocation Center.

The victory, which broke a two-game losing streak, also enabled the Spirit (11-2) to keep sole possession of first place in the National Professional Soccer League's American Division.

After starting the season with a 10-game winning streak, the Spirit found the Crunch one game back and pressing for the top spot.

"This team really sacrificed the Christmas week with two-a-day practices and came out showing a lot of character," said Spirit coach Kenny Cooper.

"We didn't want to sit back. The last time we played Cleveland, they played real well and had some bad luck. They keep coming at you, and to counter guys like Zoran Karic and Hector Marinaro, you have to finish your chances."

Wright, who totaled seven points, said the key was team play.

"The players were all focused and worked hard all week," said Wright, who has scored in each of the 13 Spirit games.

"We had a week to get ready, and we played real well in what was a big game for us."

The Spirit came up with eight straight points over an 8-minute, 19-second stretch starting late in the first quarter to take an 8-2 lead.

Cleveland got on the board on a goal by Shawn Medved 3:43 into the game.

But Wright tied it at 13:16 to start the run of points and ended it with his second goal of the day at 6:35 of the second quarter.

The Crunch (9-4), which entered the game unbeaten in six home games, closed out the half with the final three points, a two-pointer from Marinaro and a shootout point by Karic, who has scored in an NPSL-record 46 straight games, cutting the Spirit lead to 8-5 at the intermission.

But the Spirit regrouped and ended that rally with a tough defensive stand in the third period without Tim Wittman, who left the game late in the second quarter.

Wittman suffered strained ligaments in his right knee and will be examined in Baltimore.

"It was tough playing without Timmy," said Cooper. "I think the team had a hard time getting going without him, but we got through the third quarter still holding the lead."

Troy gave the Spirit some breathing room with a goal with 19 seconds left in the third.

Baltimore, leading 10-6, took over with a string of five fourth-quarter points before Cleveland's Karic made it 15-8 with a goal at 7:02 of the fourth.

It gave the Crunch forward 100 points on the season in 13 games, breaking the NPSL mark by reaching that plateau earlier than Marinaro,who got there in 15 games last season.

The second Baltimore point run included a two-point goal by Goran Hunjak and a one-pointer by Abe.

"We did a few things a bit different today," said Cooper. "Instead of going with Doug Neely against Karic, we went with three different players in a rotation.

"This just happened to be our day today," he said. "But when you play this well, you want it to be against the good teams, like Cleveland."

Things may have worked well for Cooper, but Cleveland coach Gary Hindley couldn't say the same.

"Anything we tried went wrong," said the Crunch coach. "We tried to move our midfielders deeper to regain the momentum, and we tried three midfielders, but nothing worked. You are going to have games like this, but you don't want them at home, especially after winning two on the road."

Baltimore, 4-1 on the road, has taken both meetings with Cleveland this season.

They meet twice more, with each having a home game. Baltimore plays host to the Crunch March 11 and returns to Cleveland March 25.

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